Local Scientist Splits Water, Saves World, Gets On TV

This might have been a story of how a couple of MIT scientists happened upon a breakthrough discovery in the electrolysis of water; but they didn't (and so it isn't). This might also have been a story about an informed media which correctly and skeptically reports on such scientific discoveries -- in the midst of a public relations barrage from a leading university -- but nobody really expects such journalistic vigilance anymore. Instead, this story will try to examine what (if anything) was discovered, and how this news affects the landscape of the looming energy crisis. In addition, given that a number of encouraging research reports have surfaced suggesting a seamless transition to a hydrogen economy, I will revisit the fundamental challenge posed by moving to alternate liquid fuels: getting used to the idea of diffuse energy. (Some names have been omitted to protect the less guilty).

What the Report Reportedly Reports

Massachussets Institute of Technology chemistry professor Daniel Nocera and a postdoctoral fellow (who will remain blameless here) have published a report in Sciencepress, a rapid online publication channel for the journal Science, entitled In Situ Formation of an Oxygen-Evolving Catalyst in Neutral Water Containing Phosphate and Co2+ (link). The report itself does not make outrageous claims, but when supercharged by misleading statements and exaggerated claims from Nocera to the media as well as by an apparent MIT public relations blitz, these modest research findings have been transformed into a calming salve for the public's current angst over high energy prices. A sampling:

So what is really in the report? Nocera et. al. are working to improve the economics of hydrogen production via electrolysis by reducing the cost and improving the efficiency of electrolyzers used to split water into the component gases. Shown below is a simplified diagram showing the basics of water electrolysis.

The red and blue wires protruding into solution are the cathode and anode respectively. (Note that the configurations of real electrodes are more complicated). When sufficient voltage is applied across the electrodes, current will flow and oxygen gas (O2) will form at the anode and hydrogen gas (H2) at the cathode. The needed voltage, from thermodynamics, is termed the Standard Potential for the overall reaction and is equal to 1.23 volts at 25C. In reality, more voltage than the Standard Potential must be applied to get appreciable water splitting and gas production, for reasons discussed below. This means that the electrolyzer is less than 100% efficient in converting electric power to power theoretically available by recombining the gases in a fuel cell. Remember that power is current times volts. For example, if double the Standard Potential (i.e. 2.46) volts is applied, only half of the power goes into splitting water and the rest is wasted -- giving an efficiency of 50%.

Making A Better Electrode

Why is this extra voltage needed? Part is needed to overcome the resistance of the solution. For this reason, electrolytes are added to make the liquid more conductive. The more vexing problem has to do with the nature of the electrodes upon which the reactions take place. The rate of a reaction at an electrode, known as the kinetics, limits how fast hydrogen can be generated and turns out to be very dependent on what the electrode is made of. Precious metals such as platinum and palladium generally make good electrodes, but they are of course expensive. The reaction can be "overdriven" by applying a larger voltage than the minimum required, but this reduces the efficiency. For water splitting, the oxygen-evolving anode is the larger contributor to the problem, requiring a larger "overpotential". The goal of the Nocera et. al. research is to build a better (smaller overpotential) and cheaper anode.

They fabricated their anode by electrodepositing a thin film containing cobalt, phosphorous, potassium, and oxygen onto an inert (but conductive) surface. They fully analyzed the film to determine its composition and to verify that it was indeed producing oxygen when a voltage was placed between it and a cathode. They then measured how much current flowed (i.e. how much hydrogen could be produced) vs. how much voltage had to be applied.

The Early Returns

Cheaper? Perhaps. but it depends on what you compare it to. It's eye-opening to contrast the price of cobalt with that of platinum, but commercial anodes aren't made of platinum. It is difficult to get information on commercial electrolysis anodes, but most today are probably made of a nickel alloy. Nocera makes much of the fact of having his cell at neutral pH and open to air (where the nickel wouldn't function as well), but the cell has to be enclosed anyway to collect the hydrogen.

More Efficient? Not based on the data they presented. For example, they reported a current density of 1 milliampere per square centimeter (mA/cm^2) with an overpotential of 410 millivolts. In comparison, this patent from 1979 reports better performance (e.g. 1mA/cm^2 at < 200 mV overpotential) for nickel anodes. Remember, the goal is to minimize the overpotential for a given current density. There have also been many recent reports of better performance for a variety of anode compositions, including alloys or oxides containing cobalt.

Anything? Hello?

If the Nocera electrode material isn't more efficient, then we are back to cheaper. This remains to be seen in the context of a working electrolyzer, but there might be some advantages to a neutral pH and the simplicity of fabrication. Thus, this is research worth doing. But what has been communicated to the outside world is that hydrogen will soon be flowing from our pores because of this research. Let's look at some of the more amazing claims.

Deconstructing the Media

I will chastise MIT first, since (although they are not a disinterested party) they should know better. Here is one bold claim:

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today's announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.
No, they've made an anode which may or may not be cheaper and is not more efficient. And according to this report, capital costs (of which the anode cost is only a part) account for less than half of the overall cost of producing hydrogen -- the largest being the cost of the electricity. And for smaller systems, since the amount of electrode material scales directly with capacity, more of the capital cost is incurred by other equipment such as control electronics and gas handling and compression hardware.
Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and [the other guy], a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases.
Inspiration from leaves aside, there are decades of precedence for the electrolysis of water. Nocera doesn't reference any of it, but you can easily find it with Google.

From EETimes we have this thermodynamically challenged claim:

A liquid catalyst was added to water before electrolysis to achieve what the researchers claim is almost 100-percent efficiency.
The MIT catalyst components are solids (salts) dissolved in water, but where would the 100% claim come from? Perhaps from quoting Nocera:
"The hard part of getting water to split is not the hydrogen -- platinum as a catalyst works fine for the hydrogen. But platinum works very poorly for oxygen, making you use much more energy," said MIT chemistry professor Daniel Nocera. "What we have done is made a catalyst work for the oxygen part without any extra energy. In fact, with our catalyst almost 100 percent of the current used for electrolysis goes into making oxygen and hydrogen."
First, platinum isn't presently used for the anode anyway. But the last sentence should be rewritten as "exactly 100%", since where else is the current going to go? An electrochemical cell is a closed circuit. But that has nothing to do with efficiency, which is instead the amount of power effecting the chemical change relative to the total power input (see earlier discussion). Clearly, their anode is nowhere near 100% efficient.

From Reuters, we have:

Nocera's catalyst is made from cobalt, phosphate and an electrode that produces oxygen from water by using 90 percent less electricity than current methods, which use the costly metal platinum. ... "It's cheap, it's efficient, it's highly manufacturable, it's incredibly tolerant of impurity and it's from earth-abundant stuff," Nocera explained. ... "For the last six months, driving home, I've been looking at leaves, and saying, 'I own you guys now,'" Nocera said.
It's not clear where the 90% figure comes from, since commercial anodes (which don't use platinum) do at least as well as Nocera's -- his claims are not supported by his report. As for as the abundance of cobalt, it is a first-row transition metal. But according to the Encyclopedia of Earth, the abundance in earth's crust of cobalt(25 mg/kg) is less than that of nickel (84 mg/kg). According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries:
Periods of high prices and concern about availability have resulted in various efforts to conserve, reduce, or substitute for cobalt. In many applications, further substitution of cobalt would result in a loss in product performance. Potential substitutes include barium or strontium ferrites, neodymium-iron-boron, or nickel-iron alloys in magnets; nickel, cermets, or ceramics in cutting and wear-resistant materials; nickel base alloys or ceramics in jet engines; nickel in petroleum catalysts; rhodium in hydroformylation catalysts; nickel or manganese in batteries; and manganese, iron, cerium, or zirconium in paints.
As for price, remember that soy oil was rather cheap before a new market (biodiesel) appeared for it.

Scientific American plays the platinum card as well:

Chemist Daniel Nocera, head of the M.I.T.'s Solar Revolution Project, focused on one side of the equation: splitting water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen molecules. This can be done well, but it remains difficult to actually separate the molecules. But Nocera and postdoctoral fellow [the other guy] discovered it could be accomplished by simply adding the metals cobalt and phosphate to water and running a current through it. In contrast to platinum, cobalt and phosphate cost roughly $2.25 an ounce and $.05 an ounce, respectively.

"We [have] figured out a way just using a glass of water at room temperature, under atmospheric pressure," Nocera says. "This thing [a thin film of cobalt and phosphate on an electrode] just churns away making [oxygen] from water."
No, they haven't invented water electrolysis, doing it in a glass of water at RT and 1 atmosphere isn't important, "separating the molecules" isn't the problem, and phosphate isn't a metal (or even an element). Churning is for butter.

The journalistic arms of scientific journals aren't much better. From the print edition of Science (1 AUGUST 2008 VOL 321):

The catalyst isn’t perfect. It still requires excess electricity to start the water-splitting reaction, energy that isn’t recovered and stored in the fuel. And for now, the catalyst can accept only low levels of electrical current. Nocera says he’s hopeful that both problems can be solved, and because the catalysts are so easy to make, he expects progress will be swift. Further work is also needed to reduce the cost of cathodes and to link the electrodes to solar cells to provide clean electricity. A final big push will be to see if the catalyst or others like it can operate in seawater. If so, future societies could use sunlight to generate hydrogen from seawater and then pipe it to large banks of fuel cells on shore that could convert it into electricity and fresh water, thereby using the sun and oceans to fill two of the world’s greatest needs.
That's one (il)logical leap into the future.

Electrolysis in Context

Given that last vision, it's best to put the electrolysis of water to make hydrogen into the broader context of the prospects for alternative energy. Consider the following diagram:

Moving to hydrogen as an end-use fuel presents many challenges, and the cost and efficiency of electrolysis are rather minor in the larger scope. Shifting from concentrated and easily transportable fuel sources (oil converted to gasoline/diesel) to diffuse sources (solar/wind/biomass) converted to a somewhat less concentrated and much less transportable fuel (hydrogen) will result in energy inefficiencies that cannot be overcome (entropy problem). In addition, substantial changes in infrastructure are needed, and in the context of higher energy costs in the near term, making these changes will be difficult. (See the Hirsch Report for a sobering assessment.) Both an articulation and an assessment of the real challenges are somehow absent in the excitement generated by the Nocera et. al. report. Hydrogen will have uses, particularly in energy storage, but solving a few problems (when they are actually solved) will not painlessly transition us to a new energy future.


  1. Despite the hype, it doesn't appear that Nocera et. al. have made any significant advances in water electrolysis.
  2. Even if the researchers drove the cost of the oxygen-evolving anode to zero and its efficiency close to 100%, we are still only marginally closer to being able to produce significant quantities of hydrogen from solar energy.
  3. Want to invest in cobalt futures? Too late.

Perhaps the most egregious media misstatement was from the US News link:

“Oil slipped below $120 at one point today and now overall is down nearly 20 percent from its July high of near $150…..... the drop had everything to do with reports this weekend that MIT chemist Daniel Nocera seems to have discovered a cheap—by a factor of 1,000—and easy way to separate hydrogen from water.”

This report either doesn't understand energy timelines, futures markets, or neither. Futures markets are about current supply. Even were this not the case and something commercial were to come from this MIT development, to SCALE it would require MORE oil investment before we would see a pay off, requiring higher demand for oil in the coming years, not less, ergo higher futures prices.

Short term futures markets have been down because of commodity liquidations and producer hedging. News such as this had nothing at all to do with it..

I don't get this need to try and analyze daily fluctuations of these markets.

You might as well go to the track and bet on the ponies.

Its not that we are trying to predict these fluctuations to make money (though certainly many do). But there seems to be a continual flood of rationalizations of why oil has gone from $10 to $120 in under 9 years due to everything except the real reasons, i.e. that population and demand are increasing, and geology and flow rates are becoming limited. If people acknowledge this backdrop, then each day to day movement can have its own players and story while policymakers address the looming crises. But the day to day players seem to be telling policymakers what the story is, and that's not helping.

Everyone wants the good times to roll, again. HA!

I told a friend of mine on the west coast, "Gas has gone down a quarter, I guess the SUV's will make a roaring comeback ... "

Here's from the Financial Times, July 30; (Javier Blas): “After years of strong growth, liquidity in commodities futures markets, particularly crude oil, is falling abruptly as the credit crunch finally hits leveraging in the sector and contributes to a sharp increase in price volatility. The number of outstanding contracts - known as open interest in industry jargon - in key US commodities markets has fallen 5.5% since March and is now at its lowest level since January, according to Barclays… In oil, open interest has fallen to its lowest in more than a year and a half. Analysts and traders say the reduction in liquidity has been brought about by financial institutions deleveraging - particularly among cash-squeezed Wall Street banks…”

"Markets will fluctuate." J. P. Morgan.

Worse than that the same clowns who are shooting their wads in the energy commodities casinos are the ones who are supposedly investing in new energy technology.

Over the weekend I ran into a friend of a friend who had a supposedly decently viable tidal power company. I say had, because he's having to shut up shop just as he was trying to scale up to a commercial demonstrator because his venture capital firm decided it could get better ROI with the huge swings of the last few months on futures.

Once again I say: "The market didn't put a man on the moon - not while it could play the crack spread instead"

James Pethokoukis's oil price claims about the Nocera anode are little different from those of the Republican party regarding their offshore drilling rhetoric. Both can be explained by what B. F. Skinner discovered regarding superstitious behaviour in experiments on pigeons. A related experiment was conducted on humans by Derren Brown and absolutely no one suspected their behaviour had no bearing on the outcome.

Exactly. Any breakthroughs in energy efficiency would result in more productivity, increased GDP, increased incomes, etc. All these would drive the cost of oil through the roof. Jevon's Paradox will ensure that oil is going to be expensive proportionally to whatever technological breakthroughs we can come up with. Even if we had a zero point generator, oil demand would shoot through the roof because zero point generators would ignite a building spree unlike anything the world has ever seen. (Including China!) Even if we had free energy, we'd still need all the oil in the world just to build an infrastructure that could make use of free energy. That was a pretty grim realization for me...

All hail Jevons paradox ! And indeed, the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate !

I was thinking that this process might make the coal to liquids process more efficient, with less CO2 output. It would be a source of hydrogen without generating CO2

Very nice job, JB. This was much needed.

It was misleading claims like this - and the subsequent and predictable media feeding frenzy - that helped inspire me to start writing in the first place. One of the early examples I remember that ended up being way overhyped was thermal depolymerization. It made the cover of Discover, and was hyped all over the media as a cure to our oil dependence - but where are they now? Struggling to make a dime.

Tell me about it - I remember the TDP stuff myself, and for a while I even bought into it. I guess that's why I am so cynical about new developments right now. Especially journal articles from scientists - I used to work in that type of environment, and the competition for funding is intense so there is always a great temptation to make all kinds of exaggerated claims about what the potential of some development might have.

I remember sitting in a meeting once - in our field we were under increasing pressure to come up with useful devices and not just study stuff because we thought it was interesting. The first adaptation was that in virtually every talk there was a slide to talk about "device potential". Most of us knew it was all BS, but that was how the game was played.

That's not to say that some day there won't be a breakthrough of some sort someday, but you really need to put on the BS deflectors before you start reading these types of reports.

I propose a rule of thumb, or if you like, a reliable component of my bullshit detector. If anybody claims to have improved the efficiency of a well-established industrial process by more than 2 percentage points, you should check their claims, if they claim an improvement of 5 percentage points or more, they're probably bullshitting.

This quote is also a red flag for me:

"For the last six months, driving home, I've been looking at leaves, and saying, 'I own you guys now,'" Nocera said.

Nocera sounds a bit manic.

I would also point out that the idea itself - using peak solar to produce hydrogen which could then be used at night - is not new. My friend Jerry Unruh suggested this to me - and I wrote about it here - almost two years ago:


Nocera seems to be suggesting that he thought up the idea.

CSP can also be used to capture solar, store it for a few hours (in the form of heat), and then use the heat to generate electricity at night.

Yeah, I agree. I'm still struggling to see what is the connection between photosynthesis and electrolysis of water. This is beside the fact that he comes across as a total nut with a statement like that.

What TDP ran into was two fold. First there was somebody else who out bid them for their feedstock. The other shoe to drop was no refinery would buy their product. I fear algae oil projects will run up against similar problems in particular no one will refine their product into fuels the market wants. There is a $140 million algae project that will be built near Marshall MO which the local governments co-signed the loan. If they don't have a purchase agreement for their products we could be seeing a multi-hundred acre white elephant.

A lot more went wrong with TDP than just that:


More is learned from failures than from success. Biofuel projects face the same challenges as TDP did. Making sure the capital equipment is high quality means having supervising engineers are on site. Going for the lowest bid from contractors means accepting the lowest quality work. Not offending the neighbors with bad odors or too much truck traffic is a challenge that may add to costs. An unexpected rise in the feedstock or other inputs like enzymes or catalysts can be a killer. The rise in corn prices has stopped some ethanol projects. The rise in nat gas price is also a game changer. Biodiesel projects are subject to the costs for methanol and lye as well as feedstock cost. On the other end is having a product the market wants. The ethanol mandate has created a dubious demand. Big solar and wind projects can get power purchase agreements before construction begins but if it weren't for government involvement I wonder how many PPAs would be signed. I'm not saying that government involvement is a bad thing since almost every industry benefits from the way the government twists market forces. What I see for the biofuel industry is a need for either a guaranteed customer or they should create a vertically integrated system including growing the feedstock, extracting the oils, converting those oils into what the public uses, and creating a chain of retail outlets.

I don't have a chemistry background, so I can't offer comment on efficiency issues. Science is one of the most prestigious scientific publications and they think there is something in Nocera's work. They generally don't publish trivial stuff.

However, some additional points:

Firstly, I think it's possible that in their haste to debunk Daniel Nocera, people are missing his main point.

Here's a quotation from Nocera:

"You've made your house into a fuel station," Daniel Nocera, a chemistry professor at MIT said. "I've gotten rid of all the goddamn grids."


So we can't focus narrowly on energy efficiency as if the question will be decided on those grounds alone. We are going to have to look at the total costs of competing solutions.

Several TOD writers (Gail the Actuary for one) have advanced the view that the grid is in shambles and will be very difficult to maintain going forward and cannot sustain the tens of millions of electric cars that are proposed. For both Gail and Nocera, the grid is problematic.

However, we have to make a choice here. How can we have it both ways? If the grid's vast mind-boggling complexity is, on the contrary, actually quite easy to maintain then Gail is wrong and so is Nocera. There is no point in getting rid of that gigantic infrastructure and the expensive expertise to run it because the grid does its job well with little cost.

But what if we take Gail and Nocera to be correct? Then we have to consider the entire cost of the grid when making a comparison between Nocera's vision and a competing grid-based solution.

Secondly, setting Nocera's vision of the future aside for a moment, we need to consider the potential impact of reduced hydrogen prices assuming for a moment this advance will lead to them.

One of the big factors to look at when trying to determine whether one technology wins out over another is to compare total costs of ownership for both systems. Consider for instance the following scenario: What if, with increased demand, lithium and other battery-making materials become very expensive while electricity from renewable sources becomes fairly cheap as technology improves? On efficiency grounds, battery tech enjoys a clear theoretical efficiency advantage over hydrogen-based solutions. But we can't be sure that would translate into a cost advantage. (Bosselites take note)

Thirdly there are common applications for which we have no battery powered solution: heavy vehicles for instance like 18-wheel trucks, other transport trucks, buses, and large SUVs. Hydrogen internal combustion engines (H2 ICE) were shown to be viable in light trucks years ago and there is no reason why larger engines could not be built. Fuel cells can do the job, too. That's currently not the case with battery powered vehicles. To quote GM's R&D chief:

These vehicles demonstrate the promise of fuel cell-electric propulsion in this class size, but we will need to see improvements in battery energy density beyond what we have today to envision plug-in vehicles significantly larger than Volt.


Fourthly, in some ways H2 ICE is a here-now technology. Though it can't compete head to head with cheap gas because of range issues and lack of fueling stations and fuel costs, it is not a hugely expensive technology like fuel cells. You don't hear much about H2 ICE because fuel cells are much more efficient and pollute even less. But unlike fuel cells, there is no technological barrier preventing the the mass production of affordable H2 ICE's. If market conditions drive the cost of gasoline substantially and permanently above H2 or an invention pushes H2 costs down below gas, the game changes. First with fleets of locally used commercial vehicles which all use a single fueling station and then potentially with other vehicles.

BMW and Ford both have fleets of H2 ICE vehicles (not just prototypes).
There is a fleet of H2 ICE buses in service at Orlando airport.

There is a recent review (July 20) of the BMW here:

You can see a video of it being refueled here:
(Ouch, take a look at the 8 euro/kg fuel cost! 1kg of hydrogen is roughly equal to a gallon of gas)

My own view is that H2 ICE vehicles probably don't have much of a future as cheaper/better fuel cells will come sooner than many projections.
Nissan announced substantial advances today:


It's not easy getting data on H2 prices. There are some statements about industry prices in this press release.

Currently, the most efficient systems in use are producing hydrogen at $3.20 per kg, short of the industry’s ideal goal, while the rest of the industry is producing hydrogen for approximately $3.57 per kg. Global Hydrogen’s system produces hydrogen at $2.47 per kilogram.
Consider that 1 kg of hydrogen is equivalent to 1 gallon of gasoline.

I don't have a chemistry background,

Yet Don Lancaster (8,000 + hits for Don Lancaster and sci.energy.hydrogen)
and Ulf Bossel: There is no future to a hydrogen economy because it is much too wasteful.

who DO have the understanding you lack and THEY say your position is bunk.

Perhaps the works of David Dunning and Justin Kruger explain why you, lacking actual knowledge, thinks you have a better handle than Don or Dr. Bossel.

Science is one of the most prestigious scientific publications and they think there is something in Nocera's work. They generally don't publish trivial stuff.

Appeal to authority argument. You accept them it seems.

I've given links above to two authorities who say you are wrong.

So refute them.

Electricity is dirt cheap but storage is expensive AND IS NECESSARY.
To be fair you need to include the price of batteries in as well as the cost of electricity.

Nocera is making hydrogen which can be stored very cheaply at a very high efficiency because there is very little waste heat. It brings down the cost of hydrogen.

For example, a typical 400 AH LA car battery stores the energy equivalent of .2 gallons of gasoline which is equivalent to 1.8 gallons of 350 bar hydrogen gas( which is equal to .2 kg of H2).

To make hydrogen gas and pressurize it to 350 bar takes about 190 MJ per kg(170 for electrolysis and 20 for adiabtic compression) ~60 kwh per kg. If electricity costs 10 cents per kwh from the grid, that's $6.0 dollars
per kg.

The Tesla sport electric with $20000 worth of Li-ion batteries(53 kwh) has a 200 mile range(optimistically, they had to reduce their initial estimate of 250 miles per charge); to fill it costs $5.3. If the car has a life of 200000 miles that cost would amount to $5300. So fuel plus batteries = $25300 (assuming the initial change of batteries would last 200000 miles).

The Honda FCX fuel cell sedan with a range of 270 miles would cost $34.2 per fill up. If this car had a life of 200000 miles the fuel would amount to $24000.

And what would you pay to go the last 70 miles or would you walk?
($34.2-5.3)/70=$.41 per mile?

An efficient hybrid car running on gasoline gets 500 miles on a tank costing $44 to fill with $4 per gal gas.
If this car had a life of 200000 miles, the fuel would cost $17777. If gasoline rises above $6 per gallon(+$200 a barrel oil), the Honda fuel cell car would be cheaper to fuel assume electricity costs didn't rise.

The world supply of lithium is limited(13.4 million tons proven) per Chris Rhodes

and the world supply of
petroleum is set to decline.

From that viewpoint hydrogen in fuel cell cars start to look quite practical.

From that viewpoint hydrogen in fuel cell cars start to look quite practical.

Whats even more practical is reacting hydrogen with CO2 to make DME, gasoline, or diesel fuel. Its not much harder and its a hell of a lot more valuable, safe, and convenient.

DME = dioxymethane?

dimethyl ether

Thanks for your clarification of what the letters mean but it poses another question. DME has twice as many carbons as oxygens. Whereas CO2 has twice as many oxygen as carbon. So logically it looks like some sort of "dioxymethane" would be the expected outcome (though I guess a person competent in chemistry could explain why not!).
Wouldn't producing DME produce a load of surplus oxygen, just waiting to burn the whole lot up straight away?

expected outcome of what?

...of combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide. (Merely on the basis of a simplistic consideration of the c/o ratios, rather than any sound knowledge or some profound analysis of chemistry).

I don't think there's any such animal as "dioxymethane". Formic acid maybe? But any combination of two oxygens and a methane that I can think of would fall apart into simpler things like CO2 and H2... or maybe formaldehyde and H2O... tricky thing, organic chemistry. Just because you can assemble the ball and stick model for it doesn't mean you can synthesize it :)

Ooooh - but... maybe all these people are publishing research into a non-existent pseudoscience molecule:

I'd take that as sufficient proof of existence. Except that I'm also aware of so much "research" into a mythical virus called hiv and a mythical disease called aids.
(And bear in mind my point elsewhere on this page about the repressive pseudoscience spirit of Lysenko being very much still alive in the land of the "free".)

So maybe not.


The AIDS denialism position is yet another popular tin-foil hat talking point that has no grounding whatsoever. Its right up there with abiotic oil in terms of credibility.

HIV causes AIDS.

That's a great piece of unreasoned unevidenced assertion you've put there. Anyone who bothers to actually study the facts rather than the "prestigiousness" can see that on the contrary it is the HIV-AIDS hoax that is right up there with abiotic oil.

And as for wiki, due to its obstinately flawed policies on "verification" it mindlessly apes the medical establishment in all its dogmas including this one.

As for being a "popular tin-foil hat" idea, it has distinguished profs such as Peter Duesberg supporting it. The fact that the medical establishment has to so consistently persecute its heretics should speak for itself to any objective person.

They even had to pretend that the great 2-Nobels Linus Pauling had somehow lost his marbles when he started publishing things about vit C that violated the rules of Pharmaceutical Correctness.

And just take a look at the filth the BMJ stored up for David Horrobin's obituary after he died so no longer able to sue for libel. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/326/7394/885

Yes it exists. It is a di-radical transiently formed in the gas phase (perhaps in the upper atmosphere), but it is very unstable and reactive.

The two dots indicate unpaired electrons (hence di-radical).

Probably not transportable.

A di-radical, very unstable and reactive? Tact forbids me from returning the coded insult in like quantity.
I shall add two extra hydrogens to the top of your picture, and use that as the basis of a whole new genre of sci-fi under the pseudonym of, ermm, Jules Burnes-Jones.

Coded insult?

Good grief, man. I was just showing people what I found about it.

Go away.

Blue Fuel concept is about DME production path. Up in BC.

at http://www.energysynergy.ca/index.html

Volvo thinks it's the route to go.

Interesting how so many still argue the Hydrogen economy is near term.

I sense it's more long term....alternatives such as low carbon DME looks much more promising.

T Boone's Nat Gas Mid West wind farm buildout option just needs to understand this better path....

Then we would be getting somewhere

I disagree.

Turning hydrogen gas into fuels for burning in inefficient IC engines is going the wrong way.

Methanol can be burnt in fuel cells but you need a source of concentrated CO2 AND a source of renewable hydrogen. So this path would actually be more difficult than just straight hydrogen.

Of course, we could turn all fossil fuels into hydrogen.

BTW, why does everybody here seem to think scientists are stupid?

BTW, why does everybody here seem to think scientists are stupid?

I don't (well, I have published some sci papers myself, so not exactly impartial).
But the malign spirit of Lysenkoism is very much alive in many areas of science throughout the world. As in 30s Russia, so now - competent scientists are everywhere suppressed and persecuted by careerist charlatans.

Does that extend to the climate change consensus with you? I'm not sure what I think by the way, so just asking.

Indeed I consider climate change (anthropogenic gw) field to be one of the exceptions to universal re-Lysenkoism - the agw case is neat and compelling whereas the doubters depend on falsehoods such as the cherry-picked 1998 outlier.
Factors that impact on the soundness of a field look to be commercial pressures (especially re medical research/"research"), political ideological intrusions (psychology/ social causality), and boring unimportant subject such that the main concern is with career-building.

Not stupid, but many are so focused on their own work they lose a sense of proportion. Many are also surprisingly uninformed about anything outside their own specialty. Nocera (as quoted) seems exceptional.

"I've gotten rid of all the goddam grids." Ha! Ha ha! Ha ha ... never mind. No idea of the time delays involved in scaling to industrial levels.

Nocera has worked on the wrong problem. Storage is the key problem if you want to use hydrogen in mobile or widely dispersed applications.

JB, how much energy is lost in the reactions

2 O- -> O2 + 2 e- and
2 H+ + 2 e- -> H2

There has to be some loss or these molecules would not exist. Does this loss contribute to the low efficiency of electrolysis of water?

Good grief! That's too much like homework. I'll give hints and leave the rest as an exercise for the reader. You need the electron affinity of an oxygen atom, the ionization potential of a hydrogen atom, and the bond energies of O2 and H2.

You won't really get to the energy change for water formation, though, because O- and H+ are not what water is. There is considerable covalent bonding.

The low efficiency is more complicated. It relates to the fact that several electrons need to be transferred from an electrode surface to create one oxygen molecule and is also a function of overlap between the energy levels of the species in solution and those at the electrode surface.

But that was way too much information.

Thanks for the hints, JB.

I sold my chemistry textbooks a couple of decades ago, and stopped reading them quite a while before that.

Now you've given me the words to search for, I'm off to Google and wikipedia...


(there ain't no such thing as a free lunch)

The Wikipedia has a nice article on the topic:

I can't remember where I saw it, but somewhere in Wikipedia's pages on electrolysis, it mentioned that some of the loss is PVT (gas law) energy, which must be supplied to push the hydrogen out of the cell at one atmosphere or more. It's an energy sink because the hydrogen takes up a lot more space than the water. My guess is this is where a good deal of the lost electrolysis energy ends up.

Making real scientific breakthroughs is difficult, unlikely, and unpredictable.

But scientists have to show results to get their funding, so they hype whatever they can. Just like bankers make stuff up to "meet the street estimates".

And just like NASA seems to rediscover evidence for water on Mars every 2 or 3 weeks. In all of these cases, journalists just play along.

Electricity is dirt cheap but storage is expensive AND IS NECESSARY.
To be fair you need to include the price of batteries in as well as the cost of electricity.

And yet, you've not addressed the concerns of Mr. Lancaster or Dr. Bossel.

The world supply of lithium is limited(13.4 million tons proven)
And the metal in fuel cells is not?

But why not actually show how Don Lancaster and Dr. Bossel is wrong? It *IS* what I asked.

From that viewpoint hydrogen in fuel cell cars start to look quite practical.

What viewpoint is this? Where is the actual rebuttal of Mr. Lancaster or Dr. Bossel?

Oh - BTW. You analysis is flawed. You give a battery (which is a storage device for energy) and you then try to argue that it is somehow = to H2 gas. Now how can a gas WITHOUT STORAGE be the same as energy with storage? Not to mention how if I want to charge a battery all I need is an electromotive force and 2 wires. To run a motor, the battery and 2 wires. A fuel cell system needs storage for the H2, then a fuel cell. Yet - you treat the battery 'cost' to the same as H2. Either sloppy thinking or intellectually dishonest. I did like your 'to be fair' part - nice rhetorical flair - guess 'fairness' is only 'fair' if it supports your POV.

(And I note how Datamunger had not responded to Nate or myself. So he's able to respond, but is showing that his position is flawed VS Mr Lancaster and Dr. Bossel's correct position.)


I read both of Bossel's papers.

He makes a couple points.

1. Local electrolysis is more practical than centralized hydrogen production with pipelines. This actually supports
the value of Nocera's new electrolysis coalt/phosphate, room temperature electrolysis technology.

2. Chemical energy(hydrogen) will be provided by electrolysis. So he still believes in hydrogen.

3. He says synthetic hydrocarbons(like methanol) or bio-ethanol make more sense than hydrogen as a fuel generally.

Bossel doesn't really say anything about the value of storage. Bossel used to head up European fuel cell research so I get the impression he got burnt out.

As far as storage required by a hydrogen fuel cell car goes, they are simple plastic carbon fiber bottles( maybe worth $500?), less complex than batteries made up of dozens of cells with electrodes, etc. Also hydrogen car fuel cells are plastic polymer electrolytic membranes (PEM)which operate at low temperatures and therefore don't need limited materials like lithium.

Sorry, I could't understand 'The Guru'(Don Lancaster)'s site.

As far as storage required by a hydrogen fuel cell car goes, they are simple plastic carbon fiber bottles( maybe worth $500?)

wow! this might be a more significant discovery that the MIT one. any reference? how much hydrogen can these bottles hold at what pressure and temperature?

These things have been around for years!
5000 psi(350 bar)-10000(700 bar)carbon wound tanks, used also for scuba.


A 45 gallon 350 bar gas bottle (Honda FCX) can hold something like .63 kg of H2 gas; (350)^1/1.4= 66 times, 66/178=.37#/cu foot x 45 gallon/7.48 will contain 1 kg of H2 gas. A kg of H2 has the energy of 4.1 gallons of gasoline.

The 700 bar bottle of the same volume would hold 1.5 kg,
the equivalent of 6.2 gallons of gasoline.

your earlier statements:

hydrogen which can be stored very cheaply at a very high efficiency because there is very little waste heat.

As far as storage required by a hydrogen fuel cell car goes, they are simple plastic carbon fiber bottles( maybe worth $500?)

from your reference:

Issues with compressed hydrogen gas tanks revolve around high pressure, weight, volume, conformability and cost. The cost of high-pressure compressed gas tanks is essentially dictated by the cost of the carbon fiber that must be used for light-weight structural reinforcement. Efforts are underway to identify lower-cost carbon fiber that can meet the required high pressure and safety specifications for hydrogen gas tanks. However, lower-cost carbon fibers must still be capable of meeting tank thickness constraints in order to help meet volumetric capacity targets. Thus lowering cost without compromising weight and volume is a key challenge.

why would they consider lowering the cost of those "simple plastic carbon fiber bottles( maybe worth $500?)" a key challenge?

further from the reference:

Two approaches are being pursued to increase the gravimetric and volumetric storage capacities of compressed gas tanks from their current levels. The first approach involves cryo-compressed tanks. This is based on the fact that, at fixed pressure and volume, gas tank volumetric capacity increases as the tank temperature decreases. Thus, by cooling a tank from room temperature to liquid nitrogen temperature (77°K), its volumetric capacity will increase by a factor of four, although system volumetric capacity will be less than this due to the increased volume required for the cooling system.

can hydrogen "be stored very cheaply at a very high efficiency" by using cryo-compressed tanks maintained at the temperature of 77°K?

Hydrogen isn't a liquid at 77K. Nitrogen is. Hydrogen liquifies at about 20K at 1 ATM pressure.

The problem with the cryogenic approach is that no storage vessel is 100% insulating, so some amount will boil off every day. The question is, what do you do with that boiloff? You can't simply vent it (as you would with liquid nitrogen) - that would be a hazard. You could need to combust it, I suppose, which would be a waste, but it would be safest.

But the real problem is that liquification costs a lot of energy that you can't recover.

doesn't it make more sense just to store the hydrogen as a synthetic gasoline? and rid ourselves of all this hydrogen storage costs

yes. but then there is the need of a source of C that will not winded up as additional CO2 in the air.

Yes, that would eliminate the storage problem, but it would still tie us to the inefficient ICE.

I don't know what the conversion efficiency would be to get from hydrogen to gasoline. My guess is that converting to methane would be more efficient as it would be a simpler transformation. For that matter, methane tends to burn a lot cleaner, but you still have compressed gas issues to deal with. Maybe propane or butane instead?

Synthetic methanol seems to be the way to go.





And in German:


And others on this page:


Back in English, a useful review:


If you are short of time, I guess this last is the favourite, since it references several of the above.

(Thanks to Gordon Taylor for supplying these links...)



Perhaps someone can write up some syngas posts for the front page.

I'd love to see the costs and energy for a 'small' unit that, oh say, a 40 acre farm could provide feedstock for.

A kg of H2 has 133000 btu. A gallon of gasoline has 120,000 btu. Who's ass did you pull that 4.1 times figure out of.

good point but please direct your question to the right person.

He makes a couple points.

And yet you do not address his point:

There is no future to a hydrogen economy because it is much too wasteful.


If you go through a hydrogen chain, you find that after the fuel cell only 25% of the original electricity is available for use by consumers. A hydrogen economy is a gigantic energy waste. We cannot afford this in the future. Therefore, three of four renewable energy power plants are needed to balance the losses within a hydrogen economy luxury. Because of the losses, electricity derived from fuel cells and hydrogen must be four times more expensive than power from the grid.


There is no future to a hydrogen economy because it is much too wasteful. We cannot solve the energy problem by energy waste. The energy losses are all caused by laws of physics. If you go through the entire hydrogen chain starting with AC-DC conversion, electrolysis, compression, or liquefaction, transportation, storage, re-conversion the electricity by fuel cells with subsequent DC-AC, there are additional losses in every process stage. These are all related to physical processes. This is physics, not poor handling, and as the laws of physics are eternal, there was no past, there is no present, and there will be no future for a hydrogen economy. Hydrogen economy is a structure of mind, which has no backing by physics.

Or how about this one as the topic keeps coming back to cars

Ulf Bossel: Yes, exactly. There are a number of studies confirming this. With the same amount of electricity, original electricity, be it from wind solar energy, with the same amount of electricity you can drive an electric car three times farther than a hydrogen car. On 100 kWh of electricity you can drive an electric car 120 kilometers while a hydrogen fuel cell car of similar size can do only about 40 km.......The Rhine river and all other rivers would be dry in the summer because the water is used to make hydrogen. So, we are really approaching limits and we have to talk about these limits before we talk about a hydrogen economy.

Sorry, I could't understand 'The Guru'(Don Lancaster)'s site.

Is his language to simple?

Please also note that because of the staggering loss of exergy, use of
electrolysis for bulk hydrogen apps is a really, really dumb thing to do.
It is the equivalent of exchanging two US dollars for one Mexican peso.

Do you have trouble understanding links? What exactly did you not 'understand' about http://www.tinaja.com/h2gas01.asp ?

Because saying 'I don't understand' is a poor way to convince people that Don's wrong.


4. The CONTAINED energy density of terrestral
hydrogen by weight is a lot LESS than gasoline.
And drops dramatically as the tank is emptied.
The energy density of hydrogen gas by volume
is a ludicrous joke.

The Guru(Don Armstrong) is wrong on #4.

The energy density by weight of hydrogen
143 MJ/kg is 3 times the energy density by weight of gasoline at 46.9 MJ/kg.

7. There is more hydrogen in a gallon of gasoline than there is in a gallon of liquid hydrogen.

The Guru is wrong on #7; He should say that one gallon of gasoline has more energy than a gallon of liquid hydrogen. Only 15.7% of a gallon of gasoline(octane-C8H18) is hydrogen by weight.
A gallon of gasoline has 34.6MJ in it so 5.43 MJ comes from hydrogen in that gallon.
A gallon of liquid hydrogen has 10.1 MJ of energy in it.
So liquid hydrogen has 85% more energy than the hydrogen in a gallon of gasoline has.


Most of the Guru's other 'arguments' are unsubstantiated statements/slogans.

Now Bossel tends to keep repeating his points monotonously without much variation--(liquid) hydrogen is wasteful at 25% efficiency.

This is somewhat unfair because the 25% is for liquid hydrogen rather than compressed hydrogen which he calculates in other places to be 25% MORE efficient than liquification--but I understand he wants to compare liquid to liquid.
Also he includes the 'tank to wheel' efficiency which doesn't reflect the fact that hydrogen is also a storage medium which in the case of electric cars are the batteries.

Don't you think fossil fuels in IC cars are wasteful at 25% efficiency ?

http://www.efcf.com/reports/E16.ppt#320,21,Slide 21

So when fossil fuels go, we can have hydrogen storage at the same energy cost as we pay now for fossil fuels..eh.

If we can generate enough renewable hydrogen who care what the efficiency is?

Finally, an actual argument. Now to show where your thinking is wrong.

of a gallon of gasoline(octane-C8H18)
"gasoline" is a mix of isooctane and heptane.
2,2,4-Trimethylpentane -C8H18 and H3C(CH2)5CH3

Now, you COULD have used the work of Avogadro and pure C8H18 to show that you were correct (and ignore that gasoline is a mix) but instead you went for the below.

Your 'slight of hand' arguments:
There is more hydrogen in a gallon of gasoline than there is in a gallon of liquid hydrogen. is the claim.
Your counterclaim:
So liquid hydrogen has 85% more energy

Wait - Mr. Lancaster is talking about the numbers of hydrogens and your rebuttal is 'more energy' - not the number of hydrogen atoms?

Now Bossel tends to keep repeating his points monotonously without much variation--(liquid) hydrogen is wasteful at 25% efficiency.

Ok - so you are getting down on the man for 'liquid' and one should be using compressed - yet your rebuttal to Mr. Lancasters claim is the use of liquid.

If you are going to keep shifting units when it pleases you ... you are just showing your lack of credibility.

Don't you think fossil fuels in IC cars are wasteful at 25% efficiency ?

You must not. Why do I say that? I've not seen you bring this up when datamunger talks about using H2 in ICEs.

If we can generate enough renewable hydrogen who care what the efficiency is?

Ignoring the effects of loose H2 on the environment, the consumption of potable H2O and perhaps the increased water vapor in the air - sure.

Now, exactly HOW do 'we' get to the point when point where there is SO much excess renewable electromotive force that your question becomes reality?

Said by Don Lancaster's Guru's Lair:
2. Terrestral hydrogen creation is inefficient as considerably more energy of usually much higher quality has to be input than is eventually returnable.

4. The CONTAINED energy density of terrestral hydrogen by weight is a lot LESS than gasoline. And drops dramatically as the tank is emptied. The energy density of hydrogen gas by volume is a ludicrous joke.

Arguing against hydrogen based on inefficiency of production is myopic for one must consider the efficiencies of the entire systems being compared. Burning gasoline in an internal combustion engine is rather inefficient. Energy is required to make a battery for an electric car, and the battery has a finite lifetime, both of which could compare unfavorably to a carbon fiber tank. Comparing hydrogen to gasoline is meaningless because gasoline is made from crude oil, a finite depleting fossil resource, that will soon be unable to meet the world's energy needs. Using electricity from a renewable source (i.e. Sun) to electrolyze water to make hydrogen and then using the hydrogen as a fuel with the result being water is a sustainable energy carrier. It would last 4 billion years without depleting the water supply. He fails to specify the pressure of the gas. The volumetric energy density of hydrogen is a "ludicrous joke" at 1 ATM and 0 C, but no one is trying to power a vehicle with hydrogen at standard temperature and pressure (STP).

Said by Don Lancaster's Guru's Lair:
3. No large terrestral source of hydrogen gas is known. Water, of course, is a hydrogen sink and, by fundamental chemical energitics, is the worst possible feedstock.

He is arguing that hydrogen should be sourced from a finite, depletable geologic source. That's a strawman. Hydrogen has a higher energy density by weight than gasoline (143 MJ/kg vs. 46.9 MJ/kg) although by volume liquid hydrogen is lesser (10.1 MJ/l vs. 34.6 MJ/l). It is not the worst possible feedstock as can be seen by studying the table at Wiki (a Lithium ion battery has poorer energy densities). It is used as rocket fuel because it has the best characteristics for that application. Whether is has the best characteristics for automotive fuel after fossil fuels deplete is uncertain. Lancaster is negative on hydrogen and provides no viable alternative fuel for comparison.

Said by Don Lancaster's Guru's Lair:
5. Virtually all bulk hydrogen is produced by methane reformation. And thus is EXTREMELY hydrocarbon dependent.

Hydrogen can be produced in many ways including sustainable ones.

Said by Don Lancaster's Guru's Lair:
6. Hydrogen has the widest explosive range known, the least spark energy required for ignition.... Its flame is often invisible or nearly so.

It is highly volatile meaning is disperses quickly making it difficult to get an explosive concentration in open air. The flame burns above the source causing minimal damage to things on the ground unlike flames from hydrocarbons.

Said by Don Lancaster's Guru's Lair:
12. Terrestrial hydrogen is basically a POLLUTION AMPLIFIER that INCREASES the pollution of its underlying sources. It is utterly ludicrous to claim that hydrogen is in any manner, way, shape, or form "nonpolluting".

It is a bad omen when a writer capitalizes all letters in three words. Compared to oil spills and the fossil carbon and smog spewed by burning gasoline, I'll choose renewable, sustainable and environmentally friendly hydrogen.

Here is someone else's rebuttal to Don Lancaster Guru's Lair: Low Cost Hydrogen is here to stay

Burning gasoline in an internal combustion engine is rather inefficient.

Not your concern it seems - when datamunger brings up using H2 in ICEs - I've not seen you say a word.

Energy is required to make a battery for an electric car, and the battery has a finite lifetime, both of which could compare unfavorably to a carbon fiber tank.

Could? That is your rebuttal? "In some universe I've just thought of you are wrong!"

Tell ya what. Show where 'could' *IS*.

Lancaster is negative on hydrogen and provides no viable alternative fuel for comparison.

Gee. How long have you been reading TOD? A common theme is 'oil is as good as it gets'. When one is charging $10 for a barrel of oil, there is no 'economically' 'viable' 'alternative'.
(Ignoring the counter argument that oil was WAY underpriced)

That's a strawman. Hydrogen has a higher energy density by weight than gasoline (143 MJ/kg vs. 46.9 MJ/kg) although by volume liquid hydrogen is lesser

So your argument is based on something that can't happen (tanks are how gas and H2 would be contained)

Now, why are you claiming 'strawman' when you did the same thing?

It is highly volatile meaning is disperses quickly making it difficult to get an explosive concentration in open air. The flame burns above the source causing minimal damage to things on the ground unlike flames from hydrocarbons.

Err is that a rebuttal? Looks more like 'additional information'. Of course many of the car parking structures would have to be re-done for the change from FF to H2. With cities already having parking problems (hence the creation of parking structures) - looks like yet another change for the H2 pipe dream.

Hydrogen can be produced in many ways including sustainable ones.

And monkies can fly out my butt, based on math.

Taking the ash of Hydrogen (Ash:the residue that remains when something is burned Burn:To cause to combine with oxygen) and reversing that reaction takes energy.

So when humanity is *SO* Awash with excessive electromotive force to make loose H2 then 'we' can talk about 'renewable Hydrogen' as a possibility.

It is a bad omen when a writer capitalizes all letters in three words.

I see. So rather than using math, you go for a style comment as a 'rebuttal'.

I'll choose renewable, sustainable and environmentally friendly hydrogen.

And I'll ask you to show where the excessive electrical power is so your 'choice' is an actual choice VS a pipe dream.

(and I'm *STILL* waiting for a real rebuttal here. Show some math people. Keep the units the same. Guess datamunger can't be bothered however.)

No. Don Lancaster is too simple. As in minded. Once you clear his writing of hyperbole you end up with the sound of one hand clapping. Sorry but I've read a lot of Lancaster's "stuff" for lack of a profane alternative. He's a nut.


What a stunning rebuttal.

Don Lancaster is too simple. As in minded. Once you clear his writing of hyperbole you end up with the sound of one hand clapping.

And yet you can't be bothered to show the physics or math of WHY he's wrong.

He did not get burnt out, but found that fuel cells are not the way to go. Ask him, he might reply.

AFAIK, hydrogen car fuel cells still use Platinum as a catalyst. Platinum is definitely in short supply.


"Nocera is making hydrogen which can be stored very cheaply at a very high efficiency because there is very little waste heat."

No, Nocera is not doing anything that has not been done technically better already. His catalyst is less efficient and produces more heat than the best existing catalyst. The virtues or otherwise of hydrogen as an energy store remain as they were. The price advantage of his catalyst is one, questionable and two, trivial in the overall cost of such a scheme.

But it's from MIT!!! Surely that means its groundbreaking first-of-kind science.

Ok, I'm being mean. But I do believe they now leverage their legacy more than they do their science. Maybe it's their PR departments fault.


Post a link that Nocera is producing more heat.

The Nocera process doesn't require a highly alkaline Ph and occurs at standard pressure and temperature. Normal alkaline electrolytic machines like that of NorskHydro work at 30 bar and 120 degrees C and a ph of 14 by the addition of potassium hydroxide.
All that heat and pressure in the alkaline pressure electrolysis indicates that this is a huge improvement--notice REAL scientists are impressed by Nocera's work even if TOD commenters are not.

Nick, if you don't know anything just give Dr. Nocera a break from your ignorant-yet-all-knowing trolling.

Normal alkaline electrolytic machines like that of NorskHydro work at 30 bar and 120 degrees C and a ph of 14 by the addition of potassium hydroxide.

the rated power consumption of the latest StatoilHydro 4000 amp atmospheric electrolysers is 4.1 kWh/Nm3 H2 or close to 90% efficient. they do need 25% KOH aqueous solution. http://www.electrolysers.com/

Just because a process operates at high temperature does not mean that it is producing and wasting heat. Good insulation and heat exchangers on the output can keep the temperature high from modest heat generation in the process. If the overvoltage of his catalyst is greater than existing catalysts, as reported, it is less efficient and therefore will produce more waste heat even if this is conducted away at low temperatures. The reported overvoltage of 400mV on the standard potential of 1.23V implies a limit of 75.5% efficiency even before other losses are included. There is almost no other sink for the extra power but heat. Since there are commercial electrolyzers of 90% overall efficiency Nocera's process must produce more waste heat.

The use of additives to a cell is no great problem if they are not consumed.
Pumping to high pressure has a capital and operating cost but the pumping power is fairly low and is included in the overall efficiencies quoted. Operation at room temperature and pressure would be an advantage if the efficiency were as good but it is not. The cost of the extra electricity needed will most likely overwhelm any advantage in electrolyzer costs. Even electricity from renewable sources has a considerable cost from depreciated capital costs.

The fairly modest current density that is needed to keep the overvoltage down to its not very impressive value means the electrolyzer must be bigger and use more catalyst.

In the main it is not scientists other than Nocera himself that are calling this other than an modest incremental advance in a well developed field. In is journalists that are swallowing his wild claims and amplifying them.

Here's what I dont get. Instead of spending $20,000 for a battery pack that gives you a 200 mile range, why not just have a battery pack that gives you a 20 mile range, and have a small, efficient diesel generator that will charge the battery? Ballpark estimate would be $5000 for the battery and the generator. The car shouldnt need a transmission, and the electric motors can be much simpler than a full blown multivalve 4 cyl engine. So the net costs should be well under $5000.

In other words, a series hybrid like the Volvo C30 ReCharge. Only cheaper. Any numbers on how expensive gas would have to be for this to be worse than pure electric? Assuming you drive 20 miles a day 6 days a week, and 80 additional miles each week that must come from the generator.

battery pack that gives you a 200 mile range

Its part of the 'I want things just like they are now' thinking.

Instead of thinking 'hey having a 20 mile round trip iron horse' or 'I at least HAVE electricity for lighting and a radio/small video playback unit' the position is 'I want it BETTER than I had it in the past'.

It would be better. It would have full electric power at all times via either the battery pack or the generator (after the first 20 miles). It would get superb fuel economy due to the efficiency of a generator that runs at one speed, as well as the reduced weight compared to a full ICE + transmission.

It would be better. It would have full electric power at all times via either the battery pack or the generator (after the first 20 miles). It would get superb fuel economy due to the efficiency of a generator that runs at one speed, as well as the reduced weight compared to a full ICE + transmission.

Appeal to authority is wrong when it's in the form of "Aristotle says ...." The reason? In part because centuries of work have been done since Aristotle, some of which reveals stuff he was flat wrong about (e.g., heavier stuff doesn't fall faster). The authority of science itself, however, is based on contemporary peer review. That is, the authority not of some past luminary, but of current qualified peers in blind review, with expert editors also involved in the process. Science (and Science) are not based on a doctrine of "no authority"! What would the authority of that doctrine be based on anyway? Rather the authority of science is based in the end effects of the peer review process in promoting vigor.

What we're seeing in this current discussion is peer pressure, punishment of one who dares to dissent from the authority of The Oil Drum's consensus. But the standards of discussion here are a dim shadow of those in Science. Engineering has its own version of standards (e.g., the bridge falls down). But too often engineers don't seem to understand what science's are. Sigh.

As I said in the post, I don't know the standards for peer review for Sciencexpress articles. And, as I also said, the report itself doesn't make any outrageous claims. Some excerpts from the abstract:

Here we report such a catalyst that forms upon the oxidative polarization of an inert indium tin oxide electrode in phosphate-buffered water containing Co2+.
This catalyst not only forms in situ from earth-abundant materials but also operates in neutral water under ambient conditions.

Nothing about 100% efficiency, or 1000 times as cheap, or other grandiose claims. There are some things that I would take issue with as a reviewer, but I can see how they might just slide by. Having peer-reviewed articles and from discussions with others, it's hard to expect professors to spend much time on reviews. Plenty of junk gets by, even in Science. And the next normal step in the process is even more important: having someone else repeat the work and publish the results. But instead, we have press releases and interviews claiming things not demonstrated in the report itself. I guarantee that the press releases and interviews were not "peer reviewed".

But what if we take Gail and Nocera to be correct? Then we have to consider the entire cost of the grid when making a comparison between Nocera's vision and a competing grid-based solution.

Ok, if there is no grid, then how do you get power to the cell? You can't replace large trucks with hydrogen and no grid.

As long and hydrogen is competing with its own energy source, it is going to be much more expensive than electricity.

We should drop hydrogen and ration the NG and Oil.

You can't replace large trucks with hydrogen and no grid.

One idea could be to have a solar plant producing hydrogen at the site of the truck fueling station.

The hydrogen fueling station at Orlando airport produces its hydrogen for the shuttle bus fleet on site but it uses methane rather than wind or solar.

Nocera has just received a $20 million grant to develop a solar power plant that produces hydrogen.


except why not produce electricity with the solar panel instead, since you need it to produce the hydrogen. Every path we've taken to get hydrogen takes us through electricity, which is as storable and easy to use as hydrogen.

Science is one of the most prestigious scientific publications and they think there is something in Nocera's work.

What he published in the report is not bad science. Making an oxygen-evolving electrode in that fashion is novel, so maybe something good will eventually grow with all this fertilizer. However, Science has printed bogus results in the past, and it is also not clear whether there was much vetting of this before it went online.

Then we have to consider the entire cost of the grid when making a comparison between Nocera's vision and a competing grid-based solution.

Getting off grid sounds nice. Go away and come up with some numbers for outfitting ever applicable homeowner (with enough land area) with PV or wind, hydrogen generators, and fuel cells. I doubt that it will be cheaper than a brand new grid.

What if, with increased demand, lithium and other battery-making materials become very expensive while electricity from renewable sources becomes fairly cheap as technology improves?

Unless you make everything in the Hydrogen Economy out of carbon, those possibilities will apply equally with it. Cobalt is interesting because it's cost is being driven up by Prius sales:

The relative merits of powering some things with hydrogen are many -- and so are the problems. My main problem with the Nocera media circus is that it breeds complacency.

Absent uneven taxes or subsidies, hydrogen will cost more than the energy equivalent in gasoline for years to come.

Go away and come up with some numbers for outfitting ever applicable homeowner (with enough land area) with PV or wind, hydrogen generators, and fuel cells. I doubt that it will be cheaper than a brand new grid.

But if we think in terms of cost trajectories for various technologies, things may look a little more promising.

As time passes, might pay to keep an eye on the areas where grid maintenance costs are very high compared to energy delivered, because that's where the approach Nocera advocates would likely appear first.

Unless you make everything in the Hydrogen Economy out of carbon, those possibilities will apply equally with it.

Possibilities, yes. But in the end, there is a decent likelihood that the costs for any raw material X are very different from the costs of Y. That's because a list of raw material prices shows huge variations from one material to the next. It's certainly beyond me to figure out how it will shake out.

I agree that complacency could be bred by this. But hopefully the cost of conventional energy will keep our noses to the grindstone with all these technologies. (and with conservation)

Science is one of the most prestigious scientific publications and they think there is something in Nocera's work.

In my experience these most "prestigious" journals will publish any old superficially passable rubbish provided it comes from a suitably "prestigious" address and tells the audience what they want to hear (or what others want them to hear, i.e., no real crisis). You will NEVER find the real paradigm-shifting breakthroughs in them, such as Wegener's plate tectonics/continental drift, Boltzmann's statistical thermodynamics (one of the greatest scientific discoveries ever) etc. (Or http://cogprints.org/5207 , http://www.zazz.fsnet.co.uk/adtheo.htm etc. for that matter.)

I have to agree. I will say that both Science and Nature do tend to publish good work, but they tend to focus on flashy, easily understood things, often to the point that they are over-simplified. In science, over-simplified often can mean that it's wrong. I personally have seen more retracted work, or work that turned out to be bunk, coming from the Science and Nature journals than any other that I read regularly.

And to follow up on what RobinPC was saying, not only are the big improvements usually not published in these journals, the big break-throughs often take decades for their importance to be understood. You simply can't change the perception of the world in the two pages or so that nature or science journals allow for articles. This is why most Nobel prizes are awarded decades after the fact, e.g. Rudy Marcus got his in 1992 for work done in the 50s on the nature of electron transfer and the most recent one for Ertl who worked on the nature of the platinum catalysis of hydrogen was done in 60s (highly relevant to this work).

Getting off grid sounds nice. Go away and come up with some numbers for outfitting ever applicable homeowner (with enough land area) with PV or wind, hydrogen generators, and fuel cells. I doubt that it will be cheaper than a brand new grid.

I fear we're going to be hearing a lot more about getting off the grid, and I fear that it's because we're already steering toward solutions for the richer portion of the population, and writing off the masses because it's too difficult to solve the problem for everyone.

Markets are great for solving problems for the rich.

Any solution that only lets the rich have cars is still flawed in the sense that you would still need a network of roads, and if barely anyone is using them, then it will be hard to justify maintaining them.

Any solution that only lets the rich have cars is still flawed

Yes. Because if 'the poor' ever opt to eat 'the rich' - today man has rifles that can tag someone from a mile away.

'the rich' can't be 'safe' from someone with a gun and a grudge. Back before guns, a walled community and some space got you safety.

This rich-poor question is very OT from the water-splitting headline here, but deserves some attention. Obviously at the moment the zillionaires are the least threatened by the rising prices and rising defaults.

But when the growth/oil-based economic system collapses and life becomes much more localised and diy-ized, then certain people who thrived in this decadent authoritarian society will find they have no place in a down-to-earth practical society.

Most rich people have made their money via opportunities presented by large markets enabled by cheap oil. Or they have great power due merely to qualifications which are of negligible value in practical situations, such as judges, politicians, and media "celebrities" of sports and entertainment (I hesitate to abuse the word 'art'!).

Come the inevitable "revolution", and collapse of existing power/credibility structures, such people are going to find themselves exposed as the least valuable to fellow-humans, in stark contrast to those who have expertise in key practical skills.

Given this stark reality we would expect that the people most subject to denial will be these rich and powerful people who are so babyishly dependent on others to turn screws the correct direction, harvest the food at the right date, and so on.

Consequently they will fail to prepare and will be all the more shocked at what happens. To crib various verses of the Qur'an, "Theirs will be a terrible fate".

Most rich people ... money

The squeeze play will be Government (who has the social contract on guns, violence and forced detention) wanting 'money' so that 'money' can be handed back to 'loyal' followers in exchange for the 'will' of the Government to be done.

I fear the day when the social contracts are broken.

Remember two important criteria underlying the establishment.

Firstly big government has only grown in a context of longdistance transport enabled by cheap oil.

Secondly most wealth (money and "ownership" of property, and even gold which may or may not be false) exists only in peoples' imaginations. If less than a critical mass wants to believe in that "ownership" then most rich/powerful people will find themselves to be possessors of merely their talents for wordspinning and deceit, which they'll find butter very few parsnips in the post-industrial age.

The difference between them is that Nocera's cobalt catalyst thin film just coats the electrode while lithium has to serve as actual storage.

For example, the Tesla electric car has a 53 kwh battery in it. That will require 200kg of lithium. Let's say we replace just 100,000,000 US cars with Tesla cars that's 20 million tons of lithium, but the world lithium reserves are just 13.4 million tons. Li-ion cannot possibly provide the amount of storage of energy we will need.

There are 13 million tons of cobalt in the world but
as Nocera indicates below, cobalt is not consumed in the process but merely coats the electrode.
Interviewer - Robert Frederick
Do you have to keep the material in that solution of cobalt and phosphate?
Interviewee – Daniel Nocera
No. Once you make that electrode, you can take it out. And you don’t need the cobalt
anymore but it’s good to have the phosphate around. And the reason for that is,
remember when we started it was just a clean piece of glass, and then when we put the
positive potential on it, it oxidizes cobalt. It takes it from what’s called cobalt2+ to
cobalt3+ and the cobalt3+ and the phosphate form this thin film. Now in the natural cycle
of this catalyst working, it goes back to cobalt2+ and then it can redissolve. But then
when the electrode’s under a positive potential it goes back to cobalt3+ and then the
phosphate in solution will capture it and bring it back to the electrode. And so we call
that self-healing or a repair mechanism. So what you can do is make the catalyst out of
cobalt and phosphate, get your thin film, it’s like a darkish, blue-black film on the
conducting glass, take the conducting glass out and put it on a shelf. Then when you’re
ready to make O2 you can take that conducting glass, put it into a solution of phosphate,
just phosphate and water now, phosphate’s a mineral anion. And then the thing just hums
away making O2. And the reason you want that phosphate is because in the natural cycle
of the catalyst performance, the cobalt can redissolve in solution and then the phosphate
escorts it back to the electrode.


Science is one of the most prestigious scientific publications and they think there is something in Nocera's work They generally don't publish trivial stuff

This is apples and oranges. Science is a fine publication, but to presume they know what and what isn't trivial in the scheme of resource depletion is a mistake. They publish new findings in dozens of disciplines. There is little multidisciplinary work in that journal or most others for that matter. They published all sorts of pro-corn ethanol papers in 2006 which look a bit silly now, even though it was 'novel' at the time and added to the foundational lit. They rejected my Energy and Water paper because it didn't fit the interests of their general audience. I am hopeful for the next paper on Energy and Risk..

And JBs article did not critique the Science paper itself, mainly the subsequent reaction and claims surrounding it.

They rejected my Energy and Water paper because it didn't fit the interests of their general audience.

More likely because it was too good for them. See my post just above. These "prestigious" journals come up with all sorts of standard lies for rejecting genuinely groundbreaking things. Don't waste your time with them!

Nate, did you publish your energy and water paper here/online? If so, I wouldn't mind a link. I'm learning a lot from your stuff.

Its currently in review at a prestigious (but less prestigious) journal. If you email me I can send you a copy.

Don't overlook the fact that this same questionably-named journal Science also started the greatest hoax in scientific history (since the original Lysenkoism):
Big money controls all this lot.

Perhaps you will next contend that fluorination is a government mind control plot, and that they're after our precious bodily fluids.


In 2007, aidstruth.org, a website run by HIV researchers to counter denialist claims,[42] published a partial list of AIDS denialists who had died of apparently AIDS-related causes. For example, the magazine Continuum, run by HIV-positive denialists, shut down when its editors all died of AIDS-related causes. In every case, the AIDS denialist community attributed the deaths to unknown causes, secret drug use, or stress rather than HIV/AIDS.

Whoops. Dumbass.


Perhaps you will next contend that fluorination is a government mind control plot, and that they're after our precious bodily fluids.

No, I'll leave the writing of baseless fallacies to yourself. But it is certainly the case that fluoridation is a seriously harmful policy, which started when Andrew Mellon needed to get rid of the pollutant from his aluminium industry, which was known to be seriously toxic. So he invented the "Mellon Institute" to promote his lies about how good it was for teeth (knowing how corrupt the dental profession are in their acceptance of mercury). And it went from there onwards thanks to suckers at least one of whom is on this page.

Anyone who bothers to actually study the facts rather than the "prestigiousness" can see that on the contrary it is the HIV-AIDS hoax that is right up there with abiotic oil.

And as for wiki, due to its obstinately flawed policies on "verification" it mindlessly apes the medical establishment in all its dogmas including this one.

As for being a "popular tin-foil hat" idea, it has distinguished profs such as Peter Duesberg supporting it. The fact that the medical establishment has to so consistently persecute its heretics should speak for itself to any objective person.

They even had to pretend that the great 2-Nobels Linus Pauling had somehow lost his marbles when he started publishing things about vit C that violated the rules of Pharmaceutical Correctness.

And just take a look at the filth the BMJ stored up for David Horrobin's obituary after he died so no longer able to sue for libel. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/326/7394/885

OR - you could put the solar on the roof (or windmill in the north 40) and just plug your electric (cart, car, etc.) into the wall and charge it up for short trips to the store, school, work, timmy's soccer game etc.

and avoid all the losses in creating hydrogen

still probably can't happen on a large scale - but why bother with the hydrogen when you can create electricty and power a vehicle with it fairly directly?

still probably can't happen on a large scale - but why bother with the hydrogen when you can create electricty and power a vehicle with it fairly directly?


And, of course, for heavy vehicles where batteries aren't (yet) good enough.

for heavy vehicles where batteries aren't (yet) good enough.

There are these things called trains. They 'drive' on 'roads' made of 'steel', and they can be powered via electricity and be without batteries at the same time.

A hydrogen free solution to your concerns.

(And I note that you have not refuted Mr. Lancaster or Mr. Bossel.)

Yes, and in case there are no rails around (or others were earlier to get hold of the iron for building new ones) you also can run wired vehicles on the roads:
Trolleybuses and trolleytrucks .
There are also hybrids or dual-mode vehicles

There will probably be more fiddling around with "innovative" stuff like hydrogen, but finally people will have to use what can be used right now - and not in the far future. Therefore I think that in real life mature technologies like trolleymobiles will become much more relevant to provide some basic transportation in the beginning of the post fossil era.

Yes, and in case there are no rails around

Yes, and there was a time when there were not roads. Then someone built 'em.

What makes you think roads will last?

Good point.

From what I have seen, rails last a good deal longer than roads and require much less maintenance.

Or use natural gas in a fuel cell avoiding the efficiency losses making the hydrogen.

The only use I can see for electrolysis / hydrogen is as a dump load from excess wind / nukes to make small quantities of hydrogen which is mixed with bio / natural gas or possibly gasified coal which is the main fuel in solar thermal CCGT, CHP and/or vehicles.

Hydrogen is popular because you can make it cheaper from fossil fuels and burn in in an ICE.

Nanotechnology will hugely improve battery performance there is also the combination of batteries and super/ultra capacitors.

Battery electric will always beat hydrogen FC on round trip efficiency, regenerative braking and simplicity.

Fuel cells are electrical devices and as such become less efficient as the load increases. Thermal losses are proportional to the square of the current and I suspect these high efficiency claims for fuel cells are for when they are lightly loaded. Fuel cells are also more mechanically complicated than most people believe. The actual reaction may be more efficient than a diesel at certain loads but things like air compressors and electronic controls decrease overall efficiency. Membranes need to be kept wet and require very pure hydrogen and can be poisoned by CO2 from the air or the carbon monoxide from a reformer. Reformers are also an efficiency drag on the whole energy chain.
ICEs can and do run on a variety of biofuels and are not poisoned by oxides of carbon in the cylinders. Microturbines are already a market success and are not picky about their fuel.

this seems alot like a cathodic protection reaction...sans cathode.

Thank you for posting this. I heard the breathless reporting of NPR and was looking forward to an analysis of the results. Well done.

Thanks for the insight. The (false) claims being made here are just astounding. Prior to this I had some hope that at least the scientific community had some ethical underpinnings - apparently not. That major media outlets could even be suggesting that the drop in oil is due to this announcement has me shaking my head. What a bunch of numbskulls.

Do you happen to know what the typical commercial efficiency of hydrolysis is today using nickel electrodes? If the figure is 50% the best we could hope to do is double generating capacity. While that's certainly a good thing it's not a world saving achievement. If nickel efficiency was 10% and this process could achieve a 90% efficiency that would be different.

Great question.

Here is a resource:

Technology Brief of Current-Day Commercial Electrolyzers (NREL)

The energy density of hydrogen is 143 MJ/kg, which is equal to about 40 kWh. From Table 1 in the link above, the units tested had energy requirements which ranged from 53.4 to 70.1 kWh/kg, giving 75-57% efficiency -- which seems to include compression.

Thanks! According to the brochure, Avalence's efficiency INCLUDING 6000 psi compression is 63%. That includes other items such as rectification losses. The resource indicates that the other producers' efficiencies would drop if they had to compress the hydrogen. Let's say Avalence is 70% efficient if compression is eliminated. Furthermore, if the electricity were being supplied directly from electrical panels the rectification losses might also be eliminated. I assume here that the electrolysis cell voltage is low enough that they can be connected in series to directly interface with 48 volt solar panels.

The systems described were mostly alkaline based. There was no mention of a platinum requirement but, as they say, an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

So I went to the Avalence website and here's a clip from their technology page:

Avālence is a technology-driven company. The Hydrofiller – a disruptive technology advance - was developed by a team steeped in 150+ years of engineering design expertise and a culture infused with hands-on design-and-build know how.

The Avālence Hydrofiller technology value proposition:

* Produce ultra-high pressure (over 5,000 psi) hydrogen directly in the electrolysis cells
* Series/parallel configuration flexibility in renewable applications
* Inexpensive electrode and separation membrane materials

Therefore, we have an existing COMMERCIAL technology using inexpensive materials with nearly 75% efficiency. A system with 100% efficiency would only be a 25% improvement.

As they used to say, "Where's the beef?" All this hoopla is for a relatively small improvement in efficiency. The referenced article shows perfect efficiency as 39KWH per KG of hydrogen. Current systems use 54 to 57KWH / KG H2.

I'm concluding that this is an orchestrated "feel-good" episode being sponsored by some mighty powerful players. The storyline here is just too thin. My guess is that the Saudis and the US government are both doing everything in their power to drive down the price of oil and punish speculators. I have seen several posts by the "seekingalpha" types suggesting that oil is dropping because of this "new technology" announcement.

Normally I stay away from conspiracy type thinking but I'll make an exception here.

The Saudis Sovereign Wealth Funds probably have sufficient liquidity to singlehandedly drive the price of oil down thirty dollars a barrel if they wish. I think the previous price spike was an orchestrated effort to raise the price of oil high enough to force the American consumer to change his mindset. That has been accomplished. Now the price of oil needs to be dropped low enough to keep the world economies from imploding into a deflationary spiral.

Nice work!

So the world is full of hype...tell me something I don't know.
And it's not new either...I have somewhere in my home a reprint of an article done in Autocar magazine in about 1906 warning automakers about wild claims in their advertizing, saying "the perfect car has not been built yet."

But it's all in who's ox is being gored isn't it? We see wild claims all the time telling us how that due to climate change, soon Manhatten and Miami will be under 10 foot of water, and that due to the coming "energy crisis" the world economy will collapse and billions will die..."stone age by 2030". My favorite is when people actually publish numbers such as "we know the remaining endowment of oil is "x". It doesn't matter what number you put in "x" or whether your a peaker or a cornucopian, we KNOW no such thing. We see the word "physics says" being thrown around like "mamma says". All I have to do is invoke words like entropy, thermodynamics or physics, and I can silence any one who doubts me, or so it is assumed.

Oh well, let the geeks have their day in the sun, it won't last long. And we will make one more little stumble forward toward greater knowledge of what can and cannot be done, maybe not a giant leap as the media always loves to proclaim but a little stumble. It's more than most of us are doing.


Well said. Media hype in this case is hydrogen positive with numbers thrown around like they are indisputable.

As you said it is all about whose ox is being gored. If the ethanol ox is being gored no big deal if you are an oil man who thinks the world can only run on oil. But if you are a farmer it is a big deal.

It's a big deal when logic is dismissed in favor of reckless numerical comparisons of things that are different. Then these phony results are released on the internet as indisputable truths which many supposedly smart people pick up and spread around.

It does significant harm just as this hydrogen hype does only it is negative for ethanol. Some in their fervor even accuse ethanol supporters/producers of crimes against humanity. Common sense and elementary logic are ignored in favor oil company funded hype from the UC at Berkeley instead of MIT.

And if the victims of this nonsense protest, the are called grifters and worse. The hype machine can roll over logic because it seems plausible and people want to believe it because it fits in with their world view.

I don't know why they don't just mandate a certain production of hydrogen each year, that should solve all the problems with it the same way it has ethanol.

Hydrogen would be a dead issue IF journalists, scientists, congressional staff, editors, and many folks would read the studies that we paid for with federal taxes and which are readily available on the Internet:




With 7 € cent, the price for a kilowatt hour paid by the swiss federal railway during daytime you get 50 person kilometers at an average occupancy rate of 60% in intercity traffic, on local routes it is about 25 person kilometers per kwH. So how far can you drive your car with 7 cents of gasoline worth ?
The conversion efficiency of electricity to traction energy of a modern railway engine is between 85 an 90% which is in the same range as the conversion efficiency of electricity to hydrogen via electrolysis.

What I find so mindboggling is that most people don´t understand that the infrastructure of transport and also of our society is going to change beyond recognition if we indeed manage to electrify our industrial society.

The total efficiency of producing hydrogen and then using it in a fuel cell for backup is not very high.

However, if you can make eletrolyzers and fuel cells from polymers, you can have a system with low capital costs and low maintenance. So, you can compete on price/watt, ideal for backup power, for those rare moments that the wind is not blowing for a week.

If you have an electroyzer of 100 dollar a kW and the same for a fuel cell, then total capital cost is 200 dollar a kW. With 7% interest and 25 years of operation, this translates into 0.2 cent per kWh for backup of your wind/solar. This is probably cheaper than a gasturbine.



Does Science magazine practice junk science?


Thank you for very clear explanation. There was a short discussion on this in yesterday's Drumbeat thread, especially concerning personal transportation.

Today I was browsing 'Hydrogen Technology - Mobile and Portable Applications' (Springer, 2008) for more up-to-date understanding (NB: this is a hydrogen research advocacy book). I found the following that might illustrate the whole hydrogen cycle to newcomers:

Hydrogen is always made - each manufacturing change entails an energy loss

Hydrogen Fuel cell conversion efficiency to electricity is always less than 100% and varies according to application. Theoretical thermodynamic upper limit for efficiency is 83% under constant T=25C, but that's only on paper. In the real world this drops to 40% (or c.60% max possible in real world conditions). This is still well below current batteries

Required hydrogen storage is not here yet as the volumetric energy density is very low. Current challenges include leakage issues, container shape constraints, volume requirements, insulation (for LH2), safety, high cost, high complexity and excessive weight. All these have to solved for a proper hydrogen automotive fuel storage to be feasible (note I wrote storage, not cycle)

Lithium Ion batteries have superior storage to electricity conversion efficiency to hydrogen fuel cells (PEM). Majority of energy from fuel cells is wasted into heat, which raises cooling requirements.

Personally I'm a bit baffled at all the hoopla about hydrogen cars and hydrogen refueling stations. Based on everything I've read, current batteries make more sense on the short run and quite likely even on the long run (barring basic materials shortages).

This leads me to believe that some entities have a vested interest in a hydrogen energy delivery system. I can't find any other reasonable explanation for all the fuss otherwise. It is incredible that it's been two years since European Fuel Cell Forum abandoned hydrogen fuel cell SIG, because "hydrogen economy does not meet the criteria of sustainability".

Further, the main issue is that we have 850 million cars on the road as of 2006. On top of that all the scooters, motorbikes, few ten thousand airplanes and ships.

Even if we wanted to switch them over to insert your favorite hydrogen/biogas/Li-Ion battery/whatever system, it would take a very long time indeed.

It is highly probable that time is of the essence and in that case the fastest energy system we can install is that of conservation.

We can figure the rest later, when we get there.

PS As for the reporting fumble, I think this is partly due to the fact that this was a basic science research finding and hacks... I mean journalists immediately translated that in their heads into an economic engineering breakthrough out of the lab and into the mass market. Such mistakes are very common - I know, because I've been guilty of them myself. But we really should become very cautious about making them.

Great comment, but you used more graphics than the post author. 5 demerits.

One slightly contrarian point:

Lithium Ion batteries have superior storage to electricity conversion efficiency to hydrogen fuel cells (PEM). Majority of energy from fuel cells is wasted into heat, which raises cooling requirements.

For fuel cells used more in the wintertime, this might be less of an issue since the waste heat would serve to warm the home. Of course, this would apply to the discharging half of the battery storage cycle as well.

Thanks for the kind comments, demerits accepted :)

I was thinking of the excess heat as well.

Surely it's not problem, if I just apply my techno-utopian inventive mind to it. Let's see what we can do with the excess heat from PEMs:

- cigarette lighters
- poodle warmers
- in car mini-grill
- leg warmers
- in seat hair dryers
- active heating coffee cup holders

The applications are limitless! I don't know why I didn't see it immediately: hydrogen PEM cells actually offer us FREE energy for an INFINITE amount of new heat applications.

Energy truly is free. Thank god we are saved.

/end sarcanol :)

If you look at the forgoing hydrogen article as describing a kind of battery, then they have battery competition!

From real batteries!




They all want to keep the cars, forgetting the highways and the sprawl cannot be built or maintained with any kind of batteries.

Sprawl can be maintained with electric planes with 438 mpg equivalent efficiency that fly at 100mph.

Hybrid planes with 100mpg will ensure that city to city transportation will not convert to some kind of doomer fantasy of people walking and cities becoming disconnected

There is an analysis by Brad Templeton about the inefficiency of US mass transit and the inefficiency of walking and horseback when agriculture inputs are analyzed.

Thanks for the laughs!

It would be interesting-here in TO we have a highway (401) which I think is 16 lanes wide at one point. Can you imagine hundreds of thousands of these babies filling the sky at rush hour? It would look like a swarm of locusts.

It would be less crowded than the highways because of flight at different altitudes.

50-100 feet between levels. Would mean 30-60 spaced levels between 3000 and 6000 feet altitudes.

With a higher flight ceiling there could hundreds of spaced levels.

It would be a more orderly and more separated version of what is seen in the Fifth Element.

Planes can fly in formation.

UAV control systems could easily network with the other flying machines. Pop in a address and GPS guidance takes you there.

That is why the suggestion for mass scale is to use robotic flight which is proven in ten of thousands of vehicles already. It is an easier and more proven solution than robotic cars.

The width of flight corriders can be a lot more than 16 lanes because there are no roads that need to be built. It is just airspace and flight control and electronics improvement is easier.

Safer, faster, higher volume and more efficient.

It would be less crowded than the highways because of flight at different altitudes.

They all land at the same altitude. Bring out the geese!

cfm in Gray, ME

Nah- what's wrong with multistorey runways? Use a bit of imagination please before hitting that reply button.

LOL, we can put them right next to the multistory greenhouses!

I laughed pretty hard!! Oh man..Thanks..

People are barely coordinated with wheels on the ground as it is. This would be an unmittigated disaster of collisions, death and not to mention a shortage of aviation techies and cheap glass windshields. Oh, and the flight training for everyone to get a license. Like 100,000 x 911. C'mon man. Really.

No one is going to have a reason to go anywhere because they're not going to have a place to go to in the same way as today. The imploding American economy will be more town based not city. Cities and towns not livable will be abandoned.

Hence railways for long distance and bicycles (two or three wheeled whatever) for local usage. Many times more efficient, and oh, no licenses required. Bikes can be made for 100 million people, not planes. People and also (gasp) share.

Frankly our concept of private transportation has come to an end, but we don't seem to know it yet (also to the general cornicopian thread here). It will be Public long haul, not you or me in any private vehicle. Rentals maybe but nothing more. Locally transport will be public transport (if you have it) otherwise walking and biking.

Cross a bike with a riksaw and you get an eco-bike-delta-trike as seen all around. Probably the first 21st century vehicle on the market I've seen.

Sure by all means keep your m2 hummer/trucks/muscle cars or whatever, I think it'll make a nice planter. But don't kid yourself that you'll be driving a hydrogen car.

There are already 220,000 small planes flying the USA and growing at 5% per year.

The general aviation rate of 1.31 fatal crashes per 100,000 flight hours. From 2002 through 2005, general aviation accounted for an annual average of 1,685 crashes and 583 deaths.

Light sport license about $3000 for lessons/license.
Private air license and lessons $5000-10,000.

However, the large scale proposal is to get robotic flight worked out for greater safety and the reason that this proposal is reasonable is that there are thousands of robotic UAVs already and there are NASA and other programs working on better small plane flight systems.

The large scale and robotic version probably will not happen until 2020 to 2040, coinciding with planes with more range.

There are already over one billion bikes. 60 million electric bikes and adding 20+ million electric bikes and scooters each year (mostly in China.) US only has about 100,000 to 200,000 e-bikes/scooters per year. I have written about that before on my site and at the oil drum. Significant levels of electric planes will happen. The future will not see transportation slowdown.

In today's dollars, the initial sections of the Bay Area rapid transit cost $15 billion.
The $1.5 billion extension of BART southward to San Francisco International Airport's (SFO) Garage G
In 2005, BART required nearly $300 million in subsidies after fares.
Construction costs for a planned 30th Street Mission station in San Francisco, between the existing 24th Street Mission and Glen Park stations, are estimated at approximately $500 million

Annual expenses $581.81 million
Annual losses ($300 million)
Annual gross fare income $233.65 million

Daily passengers in 2008 367,570 (started in 1973 with 100,000).
Hourly capacity 15000

Amortizing some of the costs at say it is $1.6 billion (build amortized + expenses) per year for 200,000 passengers (they are counting riders commuting out and back)
$8,000/year for a vehicle + expenses for each person + each person pays $1000/year in fares.

Buying electric vehicles that last ten years would be a more affordable option.

Cities won't be abandoned.

Hey, didn't they have all those electrified roads (that also traversed buildings!) in that Tom Cruise film, "Minority Report".

Now, that looked cool!

Regards, Matt B


City 630 km² (243.2 sq mi)
City 2,503,281
Density 3,972/km² (10,287.4/sq mi)

So for each cubic kilometer if everyone had a flying electric plane and had them all
flying at the same time. Assuming even one per child.
40 levels (25 meters between elevations, 11 story building in between each level)
100 planes on each square kilometer level. 10 rows of 10 planes. 100 meters between each plane.
A football field.
Only one cubic kilometer layer. Nothing flying below 1000 feet (except when landing or taking off) or above 6000 feet. Higher levels for larger planes.
Plenty of volume for each plane. Everyone in a car would gridlock the city. Travel in different directions can easily be split.

Is it not amazing how intuition can be completely and utterly wrong.

Even more space with less density out in the burbs and metro areas.
Urban 1,749 km² (675.3 sq mi)
Metro 7,125 km² (2,751 sq mi)
Urban 4,753,120
Metro 5,555,912

Overcrowding of electric planes will not be a problem for a long time, because it has to get popular and the planes have to be built and the factories for the planes have to be built. (decades)
Any building to building service would require vertical hover capable versions.
Parking would be an issue well before.

Sport pilot licenses would be enough. 3 hours of dual training over 60 days and 20 hours of flight time.

there are almost 250,000 general aviation planes in the USA

So electric and hybrid planes in the $40,000-140,000 range will further expand those numbers.
High volumes could bring the price down and numbers of these planes up.

thats really crowded.. 100m lee way... someone off track would cause a hefty ripple through a box of aircraft spaced out over a 100m grid.. advanced automation would be called for and weather conditions would be a major factor..

you would have to restrict travel in a set direction in each layer and have designated areas to change levels like airports have..
to change direction you would have to change level.

the density of travel would not be evenly spread per direction so your one plane per football field is unrealistic.. and one aircraft per football field is high to start with.

From my 20th floor penthouse (huh) I have a panoramic view of the planes coming in to the (maxed-out) airport. They come in about a minute apart or roughly four miles apart - presumably they're going ~250 mph along their descent path. And there's this gigantically crucial difference from cars. When driving a car you can slow to a crawl or even just stop. Try doing that when flying a plane! Consequently you have to arrive at junctions and destinations not only in the correct three dimensions but also at the allotted time too.

This whole private electric airplane business is the silliest thing I've seen since Aimee Mann took up boxing!

Yr electric airplane is a glider! Do you have any idea how big a glider that can carry a person is? Gliders need another airplane to tow them to altitude. A heavier electric glider would not be able to get off the ground under its own power, unless it had a powerful internal combustion engine. It would need a fuel tank and all the rest ... and be undifferentiated from standard small aircraft used today.

Small aircraft tend to crash. Toughened standards for flight safety have made small aircraft unaffordable. Consequently, many small aircraft manufacturers have gone out of business. Many of the small aircraft used today are kits that are built by the owners themselves, which allows the kit makers to avoid the liability that an aircraft manufacturer cannot escape. Even qualifying for a pilot's license is very difficult.

It is more likely the private, non- commercial air industry will go the way of the buggy whip. This will likely have more economic causes than energy- related ones.

Theorizing that every auto owner will switch to airplanes is a step removed from every auto owner switching to their own aircraft carriers. It's just silly!


There was a manned battery powered airplane demonstrated at Oshkosh just last week. It was a sailplane with an electric motor in the nose. Flights of over one hour at 70 mph have been made. Even if the highways crumble (which I seriously doubt will happen) the air mail will still get through.

I think it's actually 18 if you count the on/off ramps at a certain point. I was astonished when someone pointed that out to me.

Advancednano, it's nice that you are looking for solutions. I think we all want solutions.

I've also read Brad Templeton's analysis and while Alan Drake here is much more qualified to argue against his findings, I think it is painfully obvious that Mr Templeton does not have an LCA approach in the numbers he quotes. In fact, he well understands this himself and admits it in his pages, but adjusts for too modestly.

I'll give you real LCA numbers for Finland, which is the most sparsely populated European state. The data given are for nonrenewable consumption (kg of abiotic material per unit of measure) using the Material Input Per Service unit calculation method.

Fuel consumption is only 5% of total road traffic consumption

The infrastructure gulps up 87+2.9+0.8 ~ 91% of all consumption

So, how do motorways compare agains railways in consumption?

In short, they don't. Motorways can support mass movement of people, but they take more than 10 times as much to build/maintain as single-track railways. Local roads (read: sometimes unpaved, often winding often one-way roads) are good for local small traffic, but that's it.

How much does city-to-city travel consume?

Using a personal car alone consumes five times as much nonrenewables as train/bus or even average filled airplane (Helsinki-Oulu distance is 610 km ~ 380 miles (US)

Well perhaps the actual fuel consumption is lower for cars?

This is in-city traffic and as can be seen, a bus still beats a lone car driver by a factor of four or so. Hybrids improve this figure by c. 20% for small cars.

This is all city stuff, how about the rural area?

An example of a school trip in the rural area in Finland. A bus trip is 15-28 times as efficient as driving using a passenger car. A bicycle, if such an option is valid, is even more efficient (this calculation assumes construction and maintenance of roads that can be ridden)

After having read these actual life cycle studies, I cannot but conclude what Alan and others has been trying to hammer into our collective thick skulls (my apologies to those who've gotten it already):

In many a situation, personal car based infrastructure is just a huge energy waster compared to already existing alternatives. We should be seriously working on rail and other types of transports.

Granted there are probably situations where total replacement by other alternative transport methods is not so easy.

However, whether we can still use passenger cars in those situations, remains to be seen. Nature can be one hell of a negotiator sometimes.


As for the individual aviation example of yours, it is technologically interesting, but do you not think it is perhaps a bit far-fetched?

It is understandable that one wishes to criticize some of the most doomerish scenarios based purely on common sense, but it doesn't add to one's credibility if one then replaces doom with a techno-utopian future of flying civilizations, using barely out of NASA technology and based on infra that does not yet exist.

It may be possible, in the far future. So were flying cars in the 50's. We just don't know how well these ideas go down.

BTW, do notice that my numbers above for air passenger travel are based on "sardines in a can" type of efficiency we are used to when flying, not the kind of future you envision, where we have our private runaways, private electric ultralight airplanes and a multiple of current air traffic control by a factor of I don't know what number, but at least a factor of hundred if not thousands (now assuming we wont' have semi-sentient networked AI controlling all the planes).

That is, the numbers I quoted above do not reflect any type of individual aviation scenario. I'd have to assume based on the bus vs car data above that the same economies of scale come into play and that the numbers for such individual aviation would be far, far worse than the current sardines-in-a-tin-can flying (other things being the same).

The current electric planes hold two people.
The airplane efficiency numbers (where there are no need for roads)are already competitive with trains.
Electric planes are ten to twenty times more efficient fuel wise than current small planes.
Electric planes do not have to be private (although things will start out that way.)
Electric planes (with jumpjet type takeoff and landing) could form a virtual callable personal pod transportation (which have been proposed for cities) but without building the rails.

However, the rollout will likely follow as vehicles for the business jet class to fly above car traffic. Something else for people to complain about the rich and affluent having that they do not.

"Look at them flying above our gridlock in vehicles we were mocking when they were proposed as an everyman system. But now that is only the rich that have it, I want to bitch and complain that I should get it too. My lack of vision will lead me to complain about it after I see them flying overhead while I am stuck"

A conference: 2008 CAFE Foundation Electric Aircraft Symposium
San Francisco, California April 26, 2008

Near all-weather STOL PAVs will be able to transport people to within just a few miles of their doorstep destination at trip speeds three to four times faster than airlines or cars. NASA predicts that up to 45% of all miles traveled in the future may be in PAVs. This will relieve congestion at metropolitan hub airports and the freeways that surround them, reduce the need to build new highways and save much of the 6.8 billion gallons of fuel wasted in surface gridlock each year.
# Short runway use--Walk to grandma's from small residential airfields

Dozens of research papers that address the various issues

The efficiency of public transportation has to factor in the number of people being moved. The Brad Templeton case is that if you have low usage (4 people in a bus then the public transportation system is less efficient than a car.)

More restrictions can be applied to air traffic corridors and loosened only as the air traffic technology safely permits.

Intermediate step of using the 3,400 small airports in the U.S. alone.

The SATS Project (2001-2006), conducted by NASA and partners in the National Consortium for Aviation Mobility (NCAM) proved the viability of technical capabilities in the following four areas:

* High-volume operations at airports without control towers or terminal radar facilities
* Technologies enabling safe landings at more airports in almost all weather conditions
* Integration of SATS aircraft into a higher capacity air traffic control system, with complex flows and slower aircraft
* Improved single-pilot ability to function competently in evolving, complex national airspace


Air transportation models as volume increases

Synthetic vision for all weather flight

Wow, that's a load. Quite sci-fi, if you don't mind me saying so.

In what time frame do you imagine this would be possible based on your guess or reading from others?

BTW, next time, if you want somebody to believe you with a highly radical scenario like this, I kindly suggest you try to give study results (actual numbers) in addition to assertions.

I tried to look for life cycle analysis results or fuel consumption figures for 2 passenger PAV vs jumbos using best of available technology.

I found none.

Perhaps you have a direct link to a study?

There are companies making and selling the electric planes.
Comparable size to some of the electric and hybrid car companies.
The PAVs would not be competing against jumbo jets they would be competing against
Cessna's and high end cars or against super power boats.

Initial purchases will be by wealthy flying enthusiasts.
200,000 small planes and business jets in the USA already and growing by about 5% per year.

Even as a 2nd or 3rd plane or as a new highend niche toy/commuter cutter for the wealthy, would expect sales of ten thousand per year in the USA and 20,000-40,000 per year worldwide by 2015-2020.

As a useful toy for the wealthy they could be used to cut commute times from say 60-90minutes down to 30 minutes across some congested cities like New York, Chicago, SF Bay Area, Los Angeles etc...

If wealthy people were willing to pay a premium for the Concorde flights to save time and to show off then there would be market for this as well.

The wealthy do not need fuel consumption analysis. They just need valet service so that they can save their valuable time. The fuel savings would just be for green cred just like the Prius and the Tesla.

Fuel efficiency of Cessna's is about 20mpg.

The fact that doomers at TOD do not believe was expected. Just wanted to flush out the objections from a hostile crowd.

Thank you for explaining your thinking on this.

Do forgive me if I say I find the PAVs being quite unlikely to grow to a mass market vehicular type in the coming next decades. It's of course possible, but such a radical societal and cultural shift that I don't imagine it happening very fast even in the most radical scenario (excluding now the economic, logistical and energetic challenges).

As for toys for the wealthy - that's always a possibility.

BTW, I'm not a doomer and likewise many others who comment here at TOD are not.

It doesn't serve you well to paint with such a broad brush.

Best of luck with PAV advocacy - we can probably can use all sorts of solutions in the future. I wouldn't mind a PAV myself, if I could afford and use it, but would probably prefer a helicopter type solution myself (due to direct vertical take-off restrictions and my travel distance requirements).

No chance it will occur just for public safety reasons. We can't even put Segways on sidewalks!

Good comment, especially the last part. Much of the hype on hydrogen seems to have to do with the need to maintain the illusion that the current landscape of auto centered society will not have to change. In the U.S., politicians, whether democrats or republicans talk of the transition to a hydrogen economy as if it were simply a matter of throwing a switch. The current energy 'plans' of both presidential candidates fall far short of confronting the reality of PO. Even T. Boone Pickens plan requires unimaginable cooperation, luck and immediate implementation. To bring this back to the article at hand, anything that points to a magic bullet that will allow us to keep driving will be much hyped and embraced

There is however a realization that what we have today is inadequate for the job. I think the problem is that people assume that the folks working in the labs will iron out all of the problems, and then we can start buying hydrogen cars.

You are right though that there are a lot of people who would tell you that having to give up the car is a deal-breaker. The implication is that the switchover will be clean, voluntary and will happen whenever the technology is ready.

"Hydrogen storage is not here yet" - you said it SamuM. I worked for a professor engaged in hydrogen storage research over 30 years ago. They still havn't figured it out. Hydrogen is the smallest molecule and highly reactive. It is tough to contain. Last I read, those hydrogen storage tanks in cars cost $20,000 each to hold the equivalent energy of 4 gallons of gasoline. Fill it up, leave it in your garage for a week and the tank will be empty. I believe France passed a safety law prohibiting hydrogen fueled vehicles from being parked in enclosed spaces.

In Ottawa, cars powered by CNG or propane can't be parked in enclosed spaces. Hydrogen would be worse than either.

Personally I'm a bit baffled at all the hoopla about hydrogen cars and hydrogen refueling stations.

I think part of it comes from the Holy Grail of being a Zero Emissions Vehicle. In the days of California's ZEV mandate, only two types of vehicles could ever qualify, battery electrics and fuel cells. I think air quality was the wrong reason to promote electric cars, but CARB's regulatory mandate was air quality, and that was the only leverage they had with automakers. So automakers were looking at a 2% to 10% mandate on ZEVs and thought, who the hell would buy all these expensive cars with a 100 mi range and took hours to recharge? Remember, California new car sales are something like 1.5 million/yr. Imagine trying to sell 10% even after you sold one to every Californian who only needed a commuter car for short trips near home. Fuel cells were Plan B to comply with the ZEV mandate, but everyone knew they'd have no chance of mass market adoption, even less so than battery electrics.

Fuel cell cars still have a green image from having zero tailpipe emissions, but hopefully with CARB regulating CO2 we'll take a more balanced view of regulating energy vs. just air quality.


Thank you for spending the time and effort exploring the veracity of the claims that were made for this research project. I enjoyed reading it immensely.


This is not a major point, but in their haste to get out in front of this story, SciAm allowed this to be published (my emphasis):

"But Nocera and postdoctoral fellow Matthew Kanan discovered it could be accomplished by simply adding the metals cobalt and phosphate to water and running a current through it. In contrast to platinum, cobalt and phosphate cost roughly $2.25 an ounce and $.05 an ounce, respectively."


Yeah, I caught that. Picky, picky, picky.

I'm a non-technical guy, although I have closely followed energy matters for three decades, and it never ceases to amaze me how many times so-called "breakthroughs" in the solar arena have turned out to be anything but in the past three decades. Not that there haven't been breakthroughs, but I have learned to adjust my one-time enthusiasm when I hear such hype, expecting that a year from now the chances the latest "breakthrough" will have actually had an impact will be ...uh...modest, at best.

So, thanks for shortening my time-frame on this one by 51 weeks.

Have a look at the roll manufacturing video over at www.nanosolar.com -IMO this gets a tick in the "wow" box...


Yeah, I laughed when I saw all the hype. I was a teenager in the 50s and remember splitting water, and trying to explode the hydrogen. But I had no idea how powerful the explosion would be, so I ran wires across the basement to ignite it at a distance. Never got that too work, so I finally took the contraption (more or less like your diagram) up to my bedroom, ran it over night, and just put a lit match underneath and got a small pop.

What's advanced a great deal in the intervening years is marketing.

Yeah, I laughed when I saw all the hype. I was a teenager in the 50s and remember splitting water, and trying to explode the hydrogen.

Me too. In the 60's. A 6V DC power supply from a race car set, carbon electrodes from old dry cells, and some salt water. I think that we got hydrogen off one pole and oxygen/chlorine off the other. I never could get it to explode. It was easier to make gunpowder bombs from saltpetre, sulphur and ground-up charcoal briquets.

There are things parents should never know about (then and now) . . .

In the 60's. A 6V DC power supply from a race car set, carbon electrodes from old dry cells, and some salt water. I think that we got hydrogen off one pole and oxygen/chlorine off the other. I never could get it to explode. It was easier to make gunpowder bombs from saltpetre, sulphur and ground-up charcoal briquets.

Yes, I'd forgotten about the chlorine.

Getting saltpetre was the hard part. Had to think of some BS school project that required it. The guy at the store saw right through me ("You're making gunpowder aren't you?") but sold me the saltpetre anyway.

Also made a pretty good flamethrower with some heating oil and a medical syringe. The secret was to shoot the spray over a flaming piece of wood.

Learning by doing.

Just a footnote to DaveBG and Redbriars hydrogen experiments. If you had pre-mixed the hydrogen and oxygen evolved at the two electrodes (Please do not try this!) you would have a stoichiometric mixture of the two gases. Believe me you would have heard more than a dull pop when igniting the mixture.

In typical school chemistry courses students are directed to produce hydrogen by reaction of calcium metal chips with water. The hydrogen is captured in an inverted test tube filled with water. They they plug the hydrogen filled tube with a rubber stopper and remove the stopper next to a flame. The dull pop that results is the result of slight mixing of the hydrogen gas with atmospheric oxygen mainly at the "surface" of the hydrogen gas. Essentially a controlled burning.

Some students did fill a balloon with an approximately stoichiometric mixture of oxygen and hydrogen and ignited it remotely and electrically. The explosion was so violent it nearly shattered windows of the school

H + O results in an IMplosion rather than an EXplosion.

explain please

Sorry - I thought I was the idiot round here! Hydrogen and oxygen being low density gases take up a tedious amount of space. When compounded into H2O = (much denser) water they take up a lot less space. Consequently instead of an expansion (explosion like a bomb) you get an implosion. In practice it sounds much the same, just as the first strike on a timpani (orchestral drum) sounds like a little explosion even though it's actually an implosion. One of the things I lernd at skool.

One big problem. Oxygen reacting with hydrogen (in combustion) releases a large amount of energy (heat). Why do you think we are having this discussion? How do you think an internal combustion engine running on H2/O2 would drive pistons? Don't think liquid water. Think steam. Even a crude estimate using the ideal gas law (Google it) will show you how less gas can give you a much higher pressure given a much higher temperature.

I did reckon I was the idiot and it seems I may be soundly vindicated in my judgement. Actually I'd like to see a proper resolution of this question via (1) some actual calculations of the temperature change and consequent volume change, or (2) an actual empirical demonstration of whether there's an inward or outward pressure wave generated. Pending that I will guess that the hydrogen engine could be a special case due to pre-compression or whatever. Though probably not!
(And so much for what I lernt at that "grammer skule" I when't to!!!)

It would contract as it cooled down but first it expands rapidly.

I know, having personally destroyed a florence flask performing the experiment. There was the bottom of the flask sitting on the soapstone bench, and the rest of it was this sorta crunchy sand all over the floor. And me standing there idiotically holding the rubber hose with a cork on the other end. The instructor got a good belly laugh out of it.

My ears rang for a couple days, that was in high school back in the '60s.

JoulesBurn -

Nicely done piece putting this recent MIT hype into proper perspective. The right article at just the right time!

Like you and many others around here at TOD, I am increasingly losing my patience with all these technically illiterate journalists having premature ejaculations over every press release about some lab somewhere coming up with The Next Great Thing. (Acually, it's the semi-technically illiterate journalists who appear to do the most damage, because they are the ones who kid themselves into thinking they actually know what they're talking about.)

Enough already! These people just don't understand the difference between the R and the D in the term Research & Development. They can't get it through their heads that it is one thing to get an 'interesting' lab result and quite something else again to have a pilot operation chugging along and providing daily physical proof that the concept can be translated into something that actually works.

If this were just sloppy and sensationalistic journalism of the National Enquirer type, it could easily be ignored. But there is a vast body of people out there who read this stuff and think we're already out of the woods. The willingness to believe in something, anything, is just incredible.

If these MIT people can make a slightly more efficient and cost-effective hydrolysis cell, then they will have made an important contribution, but to tout up this sort of thing as a 'solution' is plainly irresponsible.

On a more fundamental note, any type of large-scale electrical energy storage system in the real world is going to have significant energy losses going and coming. It's unavoidable. I would venture that we are not likely to get much above 80% efficiency in the round-trip the electricity makes in going into storage, being held in storage, and then released for use. Taking that as a given, then it would seem to me that the most critical thing is to get the capital cost down in terms of dollars per unit of energy storage capacity. Of course, one has to look at the overall cost-effectiveness of an integrated energy generation plus storage system.

I doubt many private homes could ever generate enough PV to power both a car and appliances. The limiting factor would either be cost or lack of roof space for say a 10 kw or more system with storage. If that storage involves moving parts and fluids expect reliability problems, eg pump failures, chemical changes, leakage or temporary disconnection. This covers hydrogen, stationary batteries and plug-in cars.

Therefore I think we are stuck with some level of centralised electricity production in which the unreliable components are constantly repaired. Meanwhile people who have lost their homes are not buying solar panels and plug-in cars. This latest non-breakthrough suggests change is going to be slow.

I am really amused at press releases that amount to nothing, especially when it comes from such august institutions as MIT. It is quite sad that the mainstream press does not check these stories out in order to ascertain whether they are newsworthy or not. I am glad that the people who contribute to the oil drum have taken the time to analyze their claims. Innovation in this field is quite sparse, except for a company called Genesys, LLC, www.genesys-hydrogen.com which has just been issued its patent, U.S. 7,384,619 for its RET (radiant energy transfer) technology that efficiently cracks water to hydrogen and oxygen. There are several technical papers on its web site. I also understand that there will be a press release and demonstration of the technology. They use various selected combinations of frequencies to break the OH bond, which in theory requires less energy than ionization which is the hallmark of electrolysis. The technology appears to be firmly ground in quantum mechanical principles.

were you a bit more careful, you might be able to smell a rat in that RET - unless the guy was genuinely sloppy.

Some things sound too good to be true.

Yes, very impressive. I particularly like the idea of using "waste heat" in the form of steam. A large component of the energy cost of electrolysis is the "evaporation" of the water (into gaseous hydrogen and oxygen), i.e. to overcome the heat of vaporization of water (big number). There are huge amounts of steam available (at low steam temperatures) from coal fired power plants. Also, the inventor is correct is saying that there are many shut-in oil wells that might be used to generate steam with (geothermal energy). Once you have steam, you can THEN send the steam through a plasma generator (preferably tuned to the correct frequency to provide vibrational assistance in the dissociation of water) with a proper hydrogen membrane (plasma resistant) and generate hydrogen (and oxygen). The problem is that recombination must be avoided (not necessarily easy) and conversion might not be very complete. Obviously, much work needs to be done to demonstrate the true costs of the technology. HOWEVER, there is a lot of work already available on hydrogen permeable membranes and the use of plasmas in many areas (e.g. the semiconductor industry for deposition and etching, PECVD and ECR etching). So, it is not a completely novel idea.

I hope that he is successful but there are plenty of barriers to his success, not the least of which is the hydrogen storage problem. However, the use of Sodium Borohydride (one of the most useful of the high hydrogen density compounds) is promising. Millennium Cell just went bankrupt (used to work there - good company) and they had practically mastered the use of Sodium Borohydride for fuel cell applications. HOWEVER, SBH is much much more expensive than gasoline...

It scares me when people blithely talk about using hydrogen. The stuff is very tricky, stainless steel piping must be used, and the explosive limits are the widest for any flammable gas. It would be extremely dangerous for a household to make their own hydrogen.
The best answer would be a catalyst to react the hydrogen with CO2, to make hydrocarbons, but I doubt we have time, to do the research.

The reaction of CO2 with hydrogen is a very old reaction, producing methane or methanol depending on the process conditions or catalyst used. This technology has already been commercialized and is called the Sabatier Reaction. The yields are about 98% and exothermic. This "bridge" reaction could be used to jump start the hydrogen economy as soon as the hydrogen storage problem has been solved. Look at Genesys,LLC web site: www.genesys-hydrogen.com for more information about reactions of hydrogen with CO2. It is not necessary to use hydrocarbons for most chemicals if you take the above route.

Widest explosive range, and an invisible flame! Plus there's that little problem called fugacity:
“the tendency to flee or escape”
Good luck keeping that tank filled for extended periods.

The research has already been done:
see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methanol_economy

I'm old enough to remember 'town gas' here in the UK. It was made from coal and contained 50% hydrogen and 15% carbon monoxide. It was piped around town in old iron pipes, some dating back to Victorian times. The joints were sealed with hemp fibres and 'boss white' an oily clay. Many gas devices did not even have a safety pilot light. You just had to remember to light them. There were some accidents but not that many. I think the dangers and difficulties of domestic hydrogen are over-rated. I say this as someone who sits every day under the pipes that carry hydrogen from a stack of about 100 hydrogen cylinders sitting outside the factory and about 150 metres from the landing point of the runway of a busy London airport to furnaces where it is heated, unburnt to 1000°C to anneal magnetic alloys.

Why anyone would feign surprise at this hoax is beyond
me. They reinvent the toothbrush every week.
Nuke power had commercials heralding its arrival several deacades ago that went..."Someday nuclear
power will be so clean,safe,effecient,abundant and
cheap...it wont pay to meter it"
Recalling the famous words by Bogart...
"Play it again Sam"....This is just another of a long line of shams youre gonna hear.
Oh and by the way...Bogart never said....
"Play it again Sam"....he said.."If it was good enough for her ...its good enough for me"
The lie repeated often enough became the truth though.
Just like old lies trotted out in new garb will most
often fool the suckers...errr...I mean customers.

Ulf Bossel's interview, in case anyone missed the link Eric posted earlier http://www.thewatt.com/node/7 is quite amazing. For those of us who got C minuses in college physics, Ulf has managed to say in layman's terms what I've sort of been able to follow from the posts by the TOD regulars who did quite better in physics than I did:)

It boils down to two simple words, scale and scope. Ulf gives excellent examples of why Hydrogen can't scale up high enough to be of use, and also the scope of the problems that prevent the Hydrogen economy from becoming a reality.

That said, I did find one section that seemed unusual. Ulf says "The worst energy storage would be if we convert the physical energy "electricity" to the chemical energy "hydrogen" and then convert it back to electricity. This has a roundtrip efficiency of about 35-45% while compressed air has 75%, flywheels perhaps 80% and Lithium-ion batteries about 90%."

From a previous discussion on TOD about the air car, I thought the energy losses from high pressure compressed air storage were considerable. He uses a roundtrip efficiency of 75%. Is this reasonably accurate?

It seemed a bit on the large side, but someone has worked through the numbers here:


This actually gives a clue as to how to improve the situation. The maximum efficiency of the cycle depends on the pressure ratio, and rises to 100% as that ratio approaches 1. The answer is to use staged compression, with cooling back to ambient temperature between the stages, and staged expansion, with reheat back to ambient temperature between stages. If we get the 100 times compression by two stages of times 10 each, then half the work goes into the first stage and half into the second, with efficiencies as for 10 times compression - a huge improvement. If we use four stages (ratio 3.17), then the maximum effficiency would be 72%. If we take into account that real compressors and engines are not perfect, and neither are coolers and reheaters, we can see that real overall efficiencies achieved are never likely to be very good, even with very complicated equipment.

maybe if it was possible to convince the media that burning hydrogen results in less co2 in the atmosphere, these right wingnut polyanna's wouldnt think it is such a great idea.

If the price of oil starts to shoot back up, we'll know what did it: this article.

Absolutely laughable article. Not sure how seriously I can take some of the other content on here now that is further away from my field of expertise.

If you would, please expand on your opinion regarding the problems.

Don't have the time to do a full scale rebuttal but key points that he ignores or glosses over are the fact that Nocera is using a neutral pH solution making direct comparisons with much of the earlier literature completely pointless, that his catalyst can potentially regenerate itself over and over again in much the same way as happens during photosynthesis in plants given the fact that the stability of catalysts has always been a major issue in this field and finally that the four electron oxidation to form an O2 molecule from two H2O molecules has always been the key stumbling block in artificial photosynthesis. Forming H2 from H+ has always been the easier part of the problem. The article is completely unbalanced and is a complete hatchet job in other words. I would urge everybody to read up for themselves on what Nocera is doing rather than taking somebody else's word for it.


I'm sorry you find my analysis unbalanced. Have you read the report? Has the press coverage been balanced?

Nocera might be inspired by photosynthesis, but this is electrochemistry pal. Ain't no bright light shining on his electrode (except that from the TV crew).

glosses over are the fact that Nocera is using a neutral pH solution making direct comparisons with much of the earlier literature completely pointless

Kinetics is kinetics. If his electrode doesn't transfer electrons at a faster rate for a given overpotential (and his Tafel plot sure doesn't show it does), than it is less efficient. That is as true now as it was 40 years ago.

his catalyst can potentially regenerate itself over and over again

Sounds rather Darwinian. Nickel alloy electrodes are immortal.

stability of catalysts has always been a major issue in this field and finally that the four electron oxidation to form an O2 molecule from two H2O molecules has always been the key stumbling block in artificial photosynthesis.

Again with the photons? I don't care how much work Nocera has done studying charge transfer between molecules in solution, with or without catalysts -- stable or not. So, he bailed out of that racket and started working in an area that had more promise. Of course, electrochemists have been studying the kinetics of reactions (including this one) at electrodes for a long time. But someone who is proud that "almost" 100% of the current is going into making oxygen had best read up on the basics a bit more.

four electron oxidation to form an O2 molecule from two H2O molecules has always been the key stumbling block in artificial photosynthesis

Yeah, so the way they were approaching the problem was not tenable. Do you think that Nocera has created an anode surface with different charge transfer processes than other surfaces? Based on what evidence?

Forming H2 from H+ has always been the easier part of the problem.

Where do I say otherwise?

From your link:

GS: What was it like when you saw the catalyst work the first time?

DN: It was not a nirvana moment. The first thing a scientist asks is, how is this thing going to screw me? When is the other shoe going to drop? So we ran control experiments, and they worked. Now we are submitting a paper for publication, and other scientists basically will try to attack it in order to help me. They are going to be really brutal. In research, you have to be so impartial and so analytical. There are lots of crusaders in science, because you can convince yourself of anything. Well, that’s a really slippery slope. Once I sense I’m starting on a crusade, I bring myself into the back room and slap myself around, because that’s when I stop being a good scientist.

GS: It’s a great discovery.

See? I'm helping him.

Your comments are farcical. The catalyst is a thin film based on cobalt and phosphate that is electrodeposited onto the electrode. It is not the indium tin oxide electrode itself. The photons would come from sunlight via a photovoltaic cell in an analogous manner to role of the antenna system and special pair during photosynthesis in a leaf. The fact that O2 is being generated from H2O under benign conditions is all the evidence that is required that his catalyst is doing something completely unprecedented. If you can't even grasp simple points like that I frankly have better things to do with my time than debate with you.


So as to not waste your time, I will keep this short:

  • The reactions in Nocera's jar occur on the surfaces of electrodes, one of which is InSnOx covered with a thin film. Yes, this thin film is a catalyst, because it speeds up considerably what would be a very slow electron transfer rate. But it is useless as a catalyst in this case without the applied potential between the electrodes. You wouldn't get any oxygen (or hydrogen at the other electrode) at all. But people have been making thin films on electrodes for decades exactly for the purpose of speeding up the reaction.
  • "The fact that O2 is being generated from H2O under benign conditions" just means that the thin film facilitates the transfer of electrons (from oxygen) under those conditions. That's nice, but "benign conditions" is not evidence, nor a requirement, for good efficiency. Lead-acid batteries are still used in cars, but you wouldn't want to pour the insides on your breakfast cereal.
  • Yes, the photons would come from sunlight. But you need a chromophore and a completely different geometry to do photocatalytic splitting of water. That is not what he is doing here.

Who cares if the amount of electricity required is minimal?

Benign conditions = inexpensive = efficiency relative to earlier approaches not necessarily even a concern

Simply not true on the last bit.


Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have combined a liquid catalyst with photovoltaic cells to achieve what they claim is a solar energy system that could generate electricity around the clock.

A liquid catalyst was added to water before electrolysis to achieve what the researchers claim is almost 100-percent efficiency. When combined with photovoltaic cells to store energy chemically, the resulting solar energy systems could generate electricity around the clock, the MIT team said.


Currently, MIT is working with photovoltaic cell manufacturers to incorporate electrolysis using their catalyst into solar energy systems. By combining the two, excess capacity during the day could be stored as hydrogen and oxygen, then used in fuel cells at night when needed.

Who cares if the amount of electricity required is minimal?

Because the required generation is both relatively expensive and incorporates substantial energy?

Benign conditions = inexpensive = efficiency relative to earlier approaches not necessarily even a concern

I'm sorry, but if you actually believe this you are just not living in the real world.

Really? The reason examples of renewable energy sources being hooked up to water electrolysis are few and far between right now:-


is that the process isn't economically viable using the pre-Nocera approaches. It doesn't matter how efficient something is if it costs too much to operate. Moving to benign conditions and green chemistry can help to solve that basic economic fact of life and can also make the scale up to civilization saving and fossil fuel replacing levels of production much more achievable than would be the case if toxic and reactive chemicals have to be used.

While I certainly won't claim any expert knowledge of these matters, I find the new discovery intriguing. This is a separate issue from its immediate applicability to solving any of societies energy needs, however. My non-technical way of looking at this is that it seems to me that we already have photosynthesis engines all around us, and while it may be interesting to try to create "artificial" ones, it seems much more practical to pursue way of exploiting the natural ones.

I don't care stable your electrode is, how efficient it is, you're not going to mimick the very complicated arrays of organelles used for photosynthesis and energy storage by growing a thin-film on tin-oxide. Solid state photo- and electrochemistry is nothing like photosynthesis. If the guy were creating arrays of photon harvesting complexes and using these to drive enzymes that synthesized an energy storage molecule like ATP I might believe they were working on "artificial photosynthesis" but as it is... it's just a new electrode for making hydrogen and that's it. It wouldn't be that big of a deal except the ego of one professor and the marketing department of MIT have managed to sell it very well.

Do you really not grasp yet that the big deal is that he generates O2 from H2O at pH=7, 1 atmosphere and 25 C just as nature uses benign conditions during photosynthesis? That is completely unprecedented.

And yet, the rest of the H2 economy is bunk.


Go ahead, take the 'rebut Dr. Bossel' challenge.

Out of date now given sunlight has been a vastly underutilized energy source primarily due to its inherently intermittent nature and Nocera's research goes a long way to solving that.

Out of date

Really? Ya got some actualy proof to back up your claim?

now given sunlight has been a vastly underutilized energy source

Sunlight is hardly underutilitzed.

Photons from the sun is what keeps the planet warm. Grows the crops. Grew the plants that became fossil fuels.

Exactly *HOW* has photons from the sun been 'vastly underutilized'?

This graphic provides an idea of how little solar currently contributes to electricity generation in the United States (small portion of the 2.4% for other renewables):-

The technology exists to exploit it to a far greater extent than this but utility companies have not been interested due to its intermittent nature.

Sometimes you're extremely Trollish, Eric.

Clearly he means that we have barely begun to utilize the Sun to attack our energy problem.

Are you just trying to find ways to misunderstand?


Out of date now given sunlight has been a vastly underutilized energy source primarily due to its inherently intermittent nature

Let's see:

  • Intermittent nature
  • Chemical conditions of conventional electrolysis incompatible with the PV
  • ???

I've only been following this sub-thread so I could have missed stuff elsewhere, but you've not been doing a very good job of laying out all the facts and logical links behind your conclusion.  Calling people idiots isn't getting you anywhere; maybe you should try another tack.

Photosynthesis is not taking place under "benign conditions". Ionic strength, composition and redox potential are fiercely regulated in biological organisms. The fluid present during photosynthesis may be pH 7, but that's only because it's buffered. Yes, it's great that his electrode works at pH 7 but according to my friend Nernst, all that means is 59 mV/pH unit difference in potential, along with some implications for the stability of materials.

Thanks Joules Burn, not only for an article of remarkable clarity, but also for taking it easy on the lowly post-doc who, too often takes the fall for the failings of his/her boss.

I believe that the hydrogen economy (HE) got started in June 2003 (about 3 mo into the 2nd Iraq war), with a photo-op by President Bush at a National Laboratory. Energy Secretary Abraham did some advance flogging of the idea in early June. Also some advance flogging appears to have been done in Europe. This was played as a major technological initiative of federal government to replace petroleum based fuels. Money began to flow to anyone willing to accept it. MIT probably came calling, hat in hand. Service to the nation is one of the major duties of our major universities.

The first book on the HE (by Jeremy Rifkin) was published in August 2003, i.e. about as fast as Rifkin could write, starting when he first heard of the idea in June. In the early descriptions of HE, the electricity to do the electrolysis was to come from nuclear power, or it was simply not talked about. (With cheap, practically free, nuclear electricity, the efficiency of electrolysis hardly mattered.)

Now, this administration is about to end without any major progress on the HE. The managers who have committed to working on this policy initiative are looking for a way to continue their funding into the next administration. They are worried, IMO. Now, to make HE more in keeping with the spirit of the times, there is a claim that the electricity can come from solar. This is politically a much easier sell. Good political tactic idea! Their HE is pretty difficult sell even without the strong linkage to nuclear. So cut the link, or the HE rats leave the sinking nuclear ship.

I predict that there will soon be press releases from PR firms paid by people who have financial interests in other energy technologies. Nuclear is not utterly dead. Pickens needs the grid for his approach to wind. For both, if this were to work it would be a game killer for them. Will they find JB's analysis useful? Or do they think they need something less rational?

During the early 70's there were several articles in scientific, business and popular media about a possible hydrogen economy. The article in Scientific American was actually titled "The Hydrogen Economy". The author discussed the possibility of producing hydrogen using nuclear or even solar energy.

Selected from ICG- HyCare

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 228, 1, 13-21, 1973

CHEMISTRY IN BRITAIN, 9, 12, 559-563, 1973

SCIENCE, 176, 4041, 1323+, 1972


I remember talk of the hydrogen economy back then. The advantages cited were that hydrogen could be distributed like natural gas, using pretty much the same plumbing. It dissipates more rapidly than NatGas and unlike propane or butane it does not accumulate in low places but drifts upward.

Of course the disadvantages are the ones we are discussing in this thread. Apart from a petrochemical source, hydrogen must be produced at great energy expense and low efficiency. It takes up a lot of space and storage is a problem. Fuel cells work to convert it into electricity, but also are inefficient and don't scale well to mass consumption levels.

I think the concept of sodium-sulfur batteries also dates back to the 70s. Pity people didn't listen to Jimmy Carter and put a little more work into renewable technologies.

"...there is a claim that the electricity can come from solar."

gee, geek, that might be considered something more than just a claim.

Despite the limits of "physics" as they are understood by many folks here, I think the electricity really can come from the sun.


Talk about cherry picking your quote.

He was obviously talking about the politicalization of linking HE with solar as opposed to nuclear, not the actuality of solar being an electrical source. There is alot of doubt whether solar could be scaled up enough (with a high enough EROI) to contribute a significant amount of electricity to the "current" production of Hydrogen vs. nuclear power, therefore saying "Don't worry about the source of the electricity needed, we'll just use solar" is glossing over the problem of scale (and EROI).

The key advancement here is that where previously much of the oxygen would have been unable to escape the water and would turn into hydroxides, this new catalyst allows the oxygen to efficiently escape into the gas phase at 100%. This is important because this prevents the accumulation of a caustic liquid, allows the use and reuse of a single batch of water, and brings all the oxygen gas to rereact with hydrogen gas (without this there would be a stoichiometric imbalance, thus requiring more electrolysis of water for the needed oxygen.) I was concerned about the continued need for platinum to produce the hydrogen gas, but Dr. Nocera assures us that he has developed a catalyst for hydrogen production that will require a less expensive element. This should be published within the year.

P.S. I found a website called Peak Oil debunked, I was comforted considerably. peakoildebunked.blogspot.com

The key advancement here is that where previously much of the oxygen would have been unable to escape the water and would turn into hydroxides, this new catalyst allows the oxygen to efficiently escape into the gas phase at 100%. This is important because this prevents the accumulation of a caustic liquid, allows the use and reuse of a single batch of water, and brings all the oxygen gas to rereact with hydrogen gas (without this there would be a stoichiometric imbalance, thus requiring more electrolysis of water for the needed oxygen.)

Congratulations! This is the most ridiculous attempt at chemistry ever submitted to The Oil Drum. A true classic.

This is the most ridiculous attempt at chemistry ever submitted to The Oil Drum.

That may be true, but cjk has put a very plausible account there and your response scores high on rhetoric but zero on actual debunking data or reasoning. Any further enlightenment would be appreciated by all. Or else you come across (in this post at least) as a suspect person who can't actually engage rationally with a sound critic.

I'm sorry, but it was so implausible that I didn't know where to begin. But here are some thoughts:

  • First of all, you want to remove the hydrogen as it is generated, and the idea that one is forced to leave the oxygen behind is crazy
  • A certain amount of gas (e.g. O2) will dissolve in the liquid at a given temperature (the anode material has nothing to do with this). It can participate in a "back reaction" at the electrode, but at the working potential, it is too small to measure. It will not just magically cleave in two and reduce down to hydroxide all by itself.
  • "brings all the oxygen gas to rereact with hydrogen gas (without this there would be a stoichiometric imbalance, thus requiring more electrolysis of water for the needed oxygen)." What?? Having the H2 and O2 gases re-react is the very thing you don't want to happen. The part in parenthesis is too bizarre to be deciphered.
  • I'm glad he has faith in Dr. Nocera's ability to deliver, but Nocera is misstating the state of currently available technology.

It seems that the key thing is that cjk is falsely assuming (in contrast to yourself) that the hydrogen needs to be burnt along with a stoichiometric quantity of oxygen. Whereas presumably the normal assumption would be that the H is instead mixed with the appropriate amount of plain air as happens in conventional ICEs. I think I'll side with the latter myself.

Aaahh! Perhaps that is what he meant. And it will be combusted (or otherwise reacted) with a stoichiometric amount of O2, but it (of course) doesn't have to be the oxygen you made. (But it will be equivalent to the amount you made in the electrolysis -- conservation of matter and all that).

In my view, it would be a mistake to be lulled into the world JD of peakoildebunked creates. Have a conversation with him, as I did, and you may discover that he has a very loose relationship with reality. I tried to pull up some snippets as an example but his search doesn't seem to be working.

It may be relevant to the discussion to mentioned Soviets experiment with their own shuttle. The fuel, that propelled the rocket named "Eneriya" or "Energy", was made of liquid O2 and hydrogen. These components were mixed together and burned, creating propulsion, enough to launch this massive machine into space.

Of course, the infrastructure and development cost so much, it helped to bankrupt the country!

This was quite likely the largest scale hydrogen economy implementation to date. I am sure, quite a bit could be learned from its mistakes and failures.

It's only the second stage of the "Energia" design that uses Liquid Hydrogen. The first stage uses kerosene.

The American Saturn V (used in the Moon missions 40 years ago) also used Liquid Hydrogen for the second and third stages. The first stage fuel was kerosene.

This discovery only improves (maybe) the cost of using electrolysis to produce hydrogen gas. It doesn't address the underlying issue that the current world consumption of energy via oil, gas and coal is staggering and continues to grow at a rapid pace every year. Wind and solar power is an option to solve the problem but it cannot hold off the increasing energy demand. There is no doubt that a huge drop in energy use is about to occur in the next 10 years. It would be in the interests of everybody to conserve use of energy. Vehicles should be redesigned to weigh 1/3 of what they do now, there is no reason for the excessive mass of today's vehicles.

The technology already exists in the shape of photovoltaic cells to massively exploit solar power but the key stumbling block has always been that you can't run a solar panel at night so it is essentially useless for meeting the baseload of electricity demand. An ability to mimic photosynthesis by forming O2 from H2O under benign conditions so that incident solar energy can be stored for later use is exactly what is required for solar energy to really take off and be a genuine alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear. Nocera's research opens the way to that happening.


Maybe I'm just missing something here, but why the big fuss over inaccurate reporting and too much creativity? Comparing this to industrial Hydrogen production in order to illustrate it's short comings is like saying that research that could lead lower cost hybrids isn't so hot because heavy duty diesels see twice the BTE. Not that I disagree with pointing out inaccuracies in articles on EETimes or chastising MIT for too much creative license in their statements alone, but at least include the accurate parts too. Such as...

The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it's easy to set up, Nocera said..

Which is why it's been mentioned, not because it's going to compete w/ industrial applications in cost, or what have y'all. ;) Distributed production and use of energy would allow for a hell of a lot less time, money, and resources spent on a distribution network. Instead of using "the world's largest machine" (our grid), we may have the energy for daily life produced and stored at home. Granted, we would need efficient personal transportation as well as decent insulation, but IMO saying that it hasn't advanced water electrolysis is missing the point...

However, few catalysts operate under the conditions of photosynthesis, i.e. in neutral water under ambient conditions. Neutral water is oxidized at Pt electrodes and some precious metal oxides have been reported to operate electrocatalytically in neutral or weakly acidic solutions. The development of an earth-abundant, first-row catalyst that operates at pH 7 at low overpotential remains a fundamental chemical challenge. Here we report an oxygen-evolving catalyst that forms in situ upon anodic polarization of an inert electrode in neutral aqueous phosphate solutions containing Co2+. Oxygen generation occurs under benign conditions: pH = 7, 1 atm and room temperature.

I for one agree that the basic research finding, afaiu, is sound and indeed worthwhile.

What the post here tries to do, imho, is to put that into energy systemic perspective, esp. in the light of mainstream media reporting inaccuracies that touted this as an effective and immediate revolution on a larger scale (i.e. dropping the price of oil, etc).

I don't think most here are against science, basic research, new innovations. It's just that many if not most are interested in what can they do to our energy challenges esp. in the next 10-25 years - or even sooner.

I don't think the MIT breakthrough helps much in this regard. It pushes things forward in one of the most understood parts of the hydrogen cycle, whereas the harder problems of transport, storage and fuel cell efficiency still remain.

Don't get me wrong, it is a welcome finding, but it is just a singular finding - not a revolution on the systemic scale. Practical applications before the probable oil & gas peak and initial start of the decline? Most likely near neglible

However on the longer run, when combined with hundreds of yet-to-be-made innovations may prove important. We just don't know yet.

Still, on the longer run I'd bet more of my money on photocatalysis (with additional driving current) of hydrogen straight from sunlight. The combined full cycle efficiency of that may even beat that of PV->electricity->electrocatalysis->hydrogen. In the best world, we may have high efficiency from both. Then it's just a matter of solving the rest of the hydrogen infra issues...

However, I don't expect those to be solved in the next 20 years, but admit that I've been wrong before.

As a perspective, Joseph Romm went to work with US DOE in 1993 and helped to multiply the hydrogen research funding. He's been a staunch supporter of more hydrogen research and funding.

He wrote a book in 2004 about The Hype about Hydrogen and his conclusion was:

  • Hydrogen vehicles are unlikely to make a significant dent in US greenhous gas emissions in the first half of this century (i.e. the energy for the small amount of hydrogen would come mainly from fossil fuels)
  • Use of Fuel Cells for stationary power production seems likely post-2010, the transition to a transportation system based on hydrogen will take decades longer.
  • We need to cut energy consumption radically due to the risk of oil peaking and global warming NOW, not only after 2050.
  • Despite much hype to the contrary, a hydrogen economy is a long way off.

So, on distributed production and storage of electricity via a hydrogen pathway Romm and many other hydrogen researchers would probably agree with you. Let's hope for the best.

"Still, on the longer run I'd bet more of my money on photocatalysis (with additional driving current) of hydrogen straight from sunlight. The combined full cycle efficiency of that may even beat that of PV->electricity->electrocatalysis->hydrogen."

By Jove, SamuM has GOT IT!

I once attempted to explain to a friend the possibility of direct photocatalysis to a friend, and he insisted I was misunderstanding photovoltaic. I showed him the link I had at the time to a European company that was developing it, and he said that they must be mis-explaining things!

Yes, direct photocataliysis has HUGE potential. Sadly, however, like most alternative renewable energy, it is dismissed by many as impossible, a scam and a joke, a source of laughter and ridicule. The U.S. population has been raised in an era of cynicism. To them everything is a joke. Witness JoulesBurn's title to his piece, "Splits Water, Saves World, Get's on TV", it could have been right out of The Onion or Saturday Night Live...did anyone doubt what was coming? Surely it was not going to a fair technical piece, but more in the nature of ridiculing and satire. And it must be confessed it was decent comedy writing, good as satire often is, but satire does not have to be fair...in fact it is not nearly as funny if it is.

As we laugh off any attempted development, we are falling further and further behind the rest of the world in the alternative energy developments that could salvage our future.

I hope the laugh is a good one and the fun is worth it, not only in this case, but in the multitude of other attempts to discredit all alternatives to oil and gas. It will turn out to be expensive beyond comprehension.


I couldn't agree more. Hydrogen in this context still has a long way to go before it catches up with current battery tech in terms of the cost of energy storage. The newest LiFePO4s from China, provided the data sheets I received were accurate, are crazy cheap per kWh of energy stored! If they only last to 70% capacity after 3,000 cycles before going funky and dropping down to 5-10% capacity they're still only about four cents/kWh stored give or take. If they're as robust as they seem to be based on A123's accelerated testing then they could cost half that per kWh stored. At that price solar power with storage is more or less than same price, probably less in states with tiered rates like California, as electricity from the grid in the long run, especially if the owner/installer is a handy DIY'er. Toss wind in there and we're at half the cost or less over the long run... I should probably stop with the battery fanboy routine while I'm ahead but there's a lot of promising stuff out there if we take the time peel away the fluff to soundly compare everything.


Check out Joseph Romm's take of the media circus surrounding the report:


But he has a dog in this fight since what he advocates is very grid based.


His reaction definitely falls into the category of "hydrogen sux because I've already got it solved" that I mentioned a few days back.

He may be right. But if Nocera's ideas have legs we will have a pleasingly radical paradigm on our hands. The net effect might be the best of both worlds and a more resilient system for delivering electricity.

(The grid for dense areas. Hydrogen for others)

Note also that Romm is not above hyperbole himself, referring to concentrated solar power as "The technology that will save humanity".


good catch. I agree with Romm on at least this (although I do enjoy his word twisting shenanigans as well):

I'll keep my PV panels for peak power and in a few years buy a plug-in (and lease the battery) and run it on nighttime wind and not have to waste money on a household fuel cell -- which are currently wildly expensive -- while trying to convince my neighbors and my local zoning board that generating and storing hydrogen in my home is not an unsafe, industrial activity that should require massive ventilation, blow-out walls, and a 50-foot clearance between my house and any neighboring buildings.

Which brings me to...


If you in turn have not yet plonked me, please consider the following:

I'm getting the sense that you are arguing, because of arguments sake. Whether this is true or not, that is the sensation. It can't be good for your case. Think about it. A person who loves the truth accepts it for what it is, and let's go of the ego.

Now, as for real number and not rhetorics. Consider this:

Perhaps Romm is advocating batteries, because:

1) They are less than 1/20 of a system cost of a hydrogen storage (that has at least decent cycle efficiency)

2) Currently battery cycle is almost three times as efficient (c. 90%) in storing and retrieving electricity than a hydrogen system (75% * 45% ~ 33%). The potential of Nocera's discovery is diminishing the hydrogen system disadvantage to a factor of two "perhaps in the next ten years" as he himself puts it (99% * 45% ~ 45%). One would still be throwing away half of the energy as heat.

3) Batteries are safe (please study real hydrogen storage researchers models about personal hydrogen storage in amounts needed for nighttime grid storage. The problems are multiple and the worst of the downside risks are devastatingly explosive. A good place to start is the book I referenced earlier in this thread)

4) Batteries are now. Personal permit-free hydrogen storage in your backyard bought off a local solar installation supplier is not (at least not in the countries I know of)

5) The thermodynamical ceiling for hydrogen electrocatalysis is near 99% (after Nocera, if it can be commercialized). The PEM hydrogen to electricity conversion quantum efficiency limit at 83%. This makes for a absolute theoretical maximum of 82% for the cycle, not including practical system losses. Maybe. In who knows how many years. The more likely figure is going to be 65% at the very max (due to heat not being able to be used and being limited to real world temps). Batteries are now practically at c. 90% round-trip efficiency. Why bet on something that in the future may be 70% as good, maybe, when you can have 135% as good today?

Are batteries ultimate or without fault? Of course not. Cycle times, recharge rates, material issues and toxicity are some potential issues. However for most applications today these are all an order of magnitude more containable, manageable and cheaper problems to deal with than those of hydrogen storage and fuel cells combined.

As for solar - we both know it's the major energy flow that has any chance of 'saving' us in case of a major primary fuel crunch. Whatever the storage, whatever the method of extraction, all are likely to use solar through some pathway.

Therefor I'd have to conclude that solar tech is potentially a humanity saving technology. Perhaps not the concentrating variety - time will tell.

Still, I consider we should still continue research on hydrogen, but postpone the hydrogen economy silliness until we know what can be achieved and how well the alternatives perform on societal scale.

I find esp. the assisted direct photocatalysis to be of potential relevance. Consider this:

Best PVs are c. 20% efficient (whole solar electricity installation below that). Nocera's electrolysis is c. 99% efficient. That's still below 20% total efficiency from solar->electricity->hydrogen.

Nakamura and others are studying direct photocatalysis, albeit currently with an assisted driving current. If this efficiency can be increased to 30% (again with proper catalysts) then hydrogen creation is again improved in it's efficiency.

However, the major challenge is that of hydrogen to electricity conversion. That's where the majority of losses occur now in the hydrogen cycle (and even before Nocera's invention).

As such, I consider inventions in the hydrogen->electricity cycle much more important than those in the electrolysis part.

However, Bossel's arguments at least for hydrogen fuel cells do not give me a lot of hope on that front.

I promised to make the post way above my last hydrogen post. So let this be the one :)


An industrial complex served only by electricity from renewable sources. Then skies are heavily overcast without much wind for a week.

What happens?

One of the key ideas behind the hydrogen economy is that it offers the vision of massive energy stockpiling anywhere. Perhaps even at the household level. This would allow energy on-demand all the time and eliminate exposure to the vicissitudes of the weather.

Romm would say: we won't stockpile energy. Instead we will depend on the grid to bring energy from some region where the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.

Nocera would say: To hell with your crazy unstable grid stretched across continents at great expense. (Not to mention transmission losses)

BTW, I'm not a hydrogen advocate. Just pointing out that the detractors are not yet engaging some of the real issues.

As fossil fuels deplete, we are deprived of a means of stockpiling huge amounts of energy for times when we need it. Are you going to replace a mountain of coal outside a generating station with acres of lithium batteries?

I've heard that

(1) hydrogen is, or interacts with to create, global warming gasses and

(2) the widely distributed production and storage of hydrogen in systems that are maintained at the average (poor) level at which people tend to maintain cars (or home heating systems), is likely to lead to hydrogen leaks on a massive scale in a hydrogen economy, and that

(3) because of the size of hydrogen molecules they are difficult to contain (or at least more expensive) and

(4) hydrogen tends to create brittleness and fragility in metals that are designed to contain it, all of which exacerbate its likelihood to leak if hydrogen is being produced at gazillions of production points and consumed in gazillions of cars and home systems.

True or false? :-)

I'll play:

(1) TRUE (to some degree)
Ref: Global environmental impacts of the hydrogen economy, Richard Derwent, 2006

(2) Leaks TRUE, massive scale UNDECIDED (but potential remains)
Ref: Hydrogen Technology, Léon (ed.), Springer, 2008

(3) TRUE. Leakage control is one of the major safety, efficiency and environmental challenges of handling hydrogen (production of hydrogen being the first).
Ref: As above

(4) embrittlement: TRUE for some alloys, not for all. Even without embrittlement, hydrogen storage and handling systems require care in design, handling and maintenance - to a level that the ordinary consumer is not used to with gasoline & diesel.
Ref: As above

Most likely place of leakage, afaik, are transportation systems (like pipelines, which include joints/valves).

The Hydrogen TechnoFairy.

Hat Tip Chrissy Clarke

Weren't we supposed to be storing intermittent energy in 'supercapacitors' by now? I thought every house would have a thin film solar roof and in the garage would be a sleek sportscar powered by a supercapacitor. Along the way coal and nukes were going to be eliminated. If there are no more 'breakthroughs' what we have now could be as good as it gets.

Edit: the term is of course 'ultracapacitor'.

It will be enough to power your nanocar. Unfortunately if you are so fat you weigh more than ten milligrams, you won't be able to sit in it.

Excellent work of debunking, JB. With all the problems we have, we surely don't need supposedly serious journals such as Science pushing up the hype with this great discovery that can replace platinum which is NOT used in commercial electrolysers. A true non-breakthrough if ever there was one. It reminds me of the triangular wheel being described as an improvement over the square wheel (of course it is, it eliminates one of the four bumps). Unfortunately, politicians have discovered long ago that if they mention the magic word "hydrogen" they can look like they are doing something useful against the energy crisis, while in practice they don't have to do anything. That was the real breakthrough!

Thxs for this keypost and following comments! I am certainly not a scientist, chemist, or engineer to argue the details, but it does occur to me that when FFs are postPeak Unobtainium--> some small portion of Hydrogen Generation will be extremely valuable; cost and/or efficiency will not matter, at all, because the transport function will vastly outweigh the hydrogen generation cost.

For example, imagine an initial postPeak outbreak of some extremely virulent pathogen [SARS, HN51, Ebola, Spanish Flu, etc, or god-forbid Smallpox again]. Quarantine and ring-encirclement by vaccination is entirely time dependent--speed is of the essence if one hopes to contain further spreading, then extinguish the pathogen.

You would have no problem getting 100,000 volunteers gen-pedaling their guts out making electricity to make hydrogen fuel if they were convinced that their effort will help protect their families from subsequent infection. Then this hydrogen could power the plane or missile to speedily send the medicine to the targeted area.

Again, nobody will care about the electrolyzing efficiency rate if the primary task is to quickly move the vaccine to where it is immediately needed to halt the infectious spread.

If we can postPeak retain this knowledge and capability: it may make a huge difference to future civilization.

Of course, others would argue that highly-efficient militarized pathogens delivered by hydrogen-fueled weaponry will be a logical last-gasp choice to rapidly reduce global human headcount while still leaving other species unharmed [as compared to a full-on nuclear ICBM gift exchange].

hi Bob, have you lost your concentration on NPK today? why H2 which will be too hard to handle when FFs are postPeak Unnobtainium when you can produce NH3 out of water and air using electrons possibly without electrolysis? now with NH3, you can have your N for food production anytime before there is enough O-N to go around and, at the very same time, you can have your proven fuel for rockets and planes in the events you just talked about. sounds yeasty?

Hello Nh3,

Thxs for responding. Yep, brainfart--I forgot about that due to my concentration on all the hydrogen postings. Info-overload with all these jillions of postings I have read since 2003! :)

Conductive power transfer directly from the grid, is the best and cheapest way to power vehicles.

The most popular hydrogen concepts that are thrown about by advocates, usually involve using H2 as a portable chemical fuel for vehicles. The starting point is usually taken to be renewable electricity, though frankly thermochemical production is far more promising both from a total cycle efficiency and capital cost point of view.

The alternative to hydrogen that is usually put down is electrically powered vehicles powered by lithium ion batteries. However, batteries have problems of their own as energy carriers. Battery storage involves losses (though less severe than for H2 storage), the batteries themselves have poor energy density compared to most chemical fuels and they have a limited life expectancy.

We have successfully used electricity for transport for well over 100 years. Electric trains, metro and tram systems, are found all over the world and are competitive with fossil fuel powered systems. How many of these vehicles run off of hydrogen or batteries? I don’t know of a single one. Without exception, all of the world’s successful electric transport systems draw power directly from the grid. This offers a much better overall energy efficiency since there are no storage losses at all and the current directly powers an AC motor with efficiency of over 90%. In terms of power to weight ratio this option also comes out on top of any battery or hydrogen powered system.

Real success in electric road vehicle production therefore depends upon being able to power vehicles by conductive transfer, probably using a conductor rail embedded within the road. For local trips on smaller roads, a small IC engine or battery will still be required. Larger roads will be electrified and cars will pick up electric power using a computer guided ‘shoe’ mounted on the underside of the car. this would appear to be the most energy efficient option for powering vehicles. Portable fuels such as ammonia and methanol, will be useful in modes of transport that cannot access a grid, such as aircraft and ships.

The big question is how much it would cost to install conductor rails and transformer stations along main roads. A good comparison for starters would be the cost of electrified railways.

The energy cost would appear to be more modest than that incurred for a pure H2 economy. Here are a few back of the envelope calculations:

In my native UK, about 600TWh are used for transport each year. Virtually all of this is oil based and 80% of it for road transport. 80% of raod transport is for private vehicles with small engines that run at 20% efficiency at steady speeds. Large vehicles do a little better. Traffic jams obviously reduce total efficiency because engines continue to consume fuel when they idle. So 20% efficiency for total UK engine fleet appears to be a good approximation. In the UK electric grid, transmission losses are about 7%. The efficiency of AC motors is around 90%. So total losses of electric power between the power station and the wheels of a conductively powered vehicle are about 20%. Total efficiency is therefore 80%. It can therefore be surmised that to power the entire UK road transport system, which presently uses ~500TWh of liquid fuel, approximately 125TWh of electric power would be needed each year. This is equivalent to the constant output of 10 EPR nuclear reactors. In reality, the demand profile would require more than 10 reactors, with much of their output being used for other purposes at off-peak times. These might include synthetic fuel production for non-grid vehicles or aluminium production.

As Mr Nocera may appear to be getting an implied bad rap here, which I think is a misreading, I wanted to post the following:

Whales to Wood, Wood to Coal/Oil - What’s Next?
Daniel Nocera, W. M. Keck Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry, MIT

How the world is rapidly moving from its energy consumption of 12.8 terawatts per year, to 28 terawatts by 2050. This is a simple calculation, Nocera tells us, requiring only population, GDP per capita and energy intensity. The upshot, unfortunately, is that though we do have enough carbon-based energy (oil, methane, coal) to last all of us quite a while, the CO2 we’re emitting may choke off our current way of life long before the end of the fuel.

Nocera advises his audience to put aside dreams that biomass or nuclear energy will give us what we need. Plaster the entire planet with crops we can convert to energy, and you’d still only get seven to 10 terawatts. And you’d “need one nuclear plant every 1.6 days for the next 45 years” to get eight terawatts of power. “There aren’t enough whales to get there in 45 years,” says Nocera.

I heartily recommend the video lecture above: very informative even to experts (I'd imagine) and very relevant in regards to biofuels, nuclear, global warming, peak oil, peak gas, peak coal, solar power, etc.

Fascinating. This gives you and idea of what his thinking is, and what general directions he is trying to go.

One thing that is clear. He assumes that there are sufficient supplies of fossil fuels that there won't be an immediate crisis. He thinks we have 100 years of oil, 200 yrs of methane, and 1000 years of coal (where he included tar sands, etc). Where he gets these numbers, I have no idea - that just what he had on one of his slides.

In his mind, the problem is in the future. If you assume that the world economy will continue to grow, then we will need an additional 15TW of energy by the year 2050. He explains why biomass is too inefficient, so ultimately to get this kind of number we need some sort of solar.

His interest in hydrogen is not that we would use the hydrogen directly as end users. He is a chemist, after all, and in his mind one can use various techniques to convert H2 + CO2 into various hydrocarbon chains.

In his talk, he is talking about essentially trying to mimic what plants to in order to directly convert sunlight into hydrogen without the use of PV cells.

It is sad that he is using the infamous R/P ratio favored by economists in order to claim that we are fine in terms of remaining fossil fuel, all you have to do is build a large R using reserve numbers from tar sands, conventional oil, shale, polar oil along with the kitchen sink and divided by the current oil production number, easy! problem is that R/P assumes that oil field production profiles are rectangular in shape with any height you want matching your desired output level, no relations with real life.

"one can use various techniques to convert H2 + CO2 into various hydrocarbon chains"
If that H2 becomes available in vast quantities, whence the CO2? Atmosphere or coal? Which is the cheaper source?

At the moment the process is syngas - and the C source of syngas can be the gasses from biochar.

Thus dead plants + heat energy = (Syngas + H2 = liquid fuel) + carbon char.

The carbon char is made into terra perta and therefor pulled out of the atmosphere for long periods.

Very good if done this way, but I suspect that large scale centralized production would tend toward coal.

The limiting factor would seem to be allowing the organic material to be returned to the soil from whence it came, and making enough money from the process to pay the tax man/other expenses.

"The limiting factor ..." Limiting what? You seem to be using a sustainability model rather than a profit maximization model. In my personal life, I'm in a position to go for sustainability but I don't see how that can apply to society at large. Hence doom and gloom.

You seem to be using a sustainability model rather than a profit maximization model.

With a 50% effective tax rate and some 44% of of the people who's job is tied to a government paycheck - how can one be 'sustainable' with such a drag?

And the government, using the power of of the soverign, will be the last to 'make new arrangements'.

With a maximization model, you can afford to feed the government beast AND line your pocket at the expense of others.

Prof Goose,
Have you considering expanding oil drum to allow publication of scientific papers? You have a built-in peer review process that seems to be working very well.

Yes. We are working on adding a second level. TODs Liebigs limiting inputs are resources, specifically time and also money. Hard to work on a paradigm change when you are still part of the old paradigm....;-)

There are an increasing amount of rapid online peer review publications. Given some of the comments in this post, I suspect other 'non-mainstream' journals are where the special sauce will likely be found. But that may be my own bias.

We are working on adding a second level.


Funny how these things go.

I was just thinking of suggesting this:

The noise is really rising within the comments section. It's becoming increasingly hard to debate things that matter.

Much time is spent on weeding wheat from the chaff so to speak or debating trivialities all over again, and again, ad nauseam.

In addition, the ego-clashing will grow if things continue on their normal Usenet/web forum trajectory and that doesn't bid well for peer review. Or general health of the discussion for that matter, I might add.

Neither does dogmatism, peer pressure or herd mentality.

We are all prone to those biases, whether we liked them or not.

A proper process would really clear a lot of things up and help in sharpening the findings. I for one would love to read such a process as a lurker with no comment rights!

I still read the more technical posts from 2005-2006, because the comments can be extremely illuminating.

Dailykos.com attracts quite a different community -- mostly political and not technical -- but it generates significant traffic. Kos has built some clever filter mechanisms that allow the community to self-regulate, including filtering (hiding) some of the worst noise in comments.

There are ideas there that Nate might find worth considering.

Hello Nate,

I second the motion to build a 'white paper' limited high-level peer review process. After the TopTODers get their pro and/or con discussion postings done: I think it is important that you then open a regular TODer comments period so that the previous lurkers can add their inputs.

Whatever happened to the plans to open TOD up to charity donations? I bet SuperGoose would love to hire some crack programmers to assist him with all the software changes that TOD needs to do. :)

splits water, saves world, gets on TV

hey, 2 outta 3 ain't bad.

Please apply your critical analytical skills and knowledge to this proposal to grow algae for biofuel here on Maui.

Maui algae farm to produce biodiesel fuel

I say, Well Done, Burning Jewels, Well Done! You really showed those village idiots at MIT a thing or two this time!

The second after I read the press release, I too thought to myself: this Nocera is a raving lunatic! You expressed my sentiments precisely.

Imagine the sheer waste of it all: spending millions of dollars and countless manhours in a laboratory, researching a solution to something as impractical as solar energy storage! And with a room temperature, neutral pH cobalt-based catalyst! What a boob!

And that journal Science, what a rag. No way they vetted Nocera's work half as rigorously as you did. Why, I wouldn't line the bird cage in my bomb shelter with that tabloid. It's a wonder Murdoch hasn't bought them already!

And your brilliant retort took only four days to post! A thousand more kudos to you! I just hope I have the honor and pleasure of meeting you in Sacramento next month. The first Sierra Nevada is on me.

I say again, well done, old chap, well done! You've given all of us here at TOD just what this dismal subject matter deserves: more flame, less light.

P.S. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge: I'm short cobalt too.

You've given all of us here at TOD just what this dismal subject matter deserves: more flame, less light.

This coming from a guy who has been a member of TOD for less than an hour? You're just another troll...

From the TR-Forum:
"Kevin Bullis:
Here's what John Turner of NREL says. In the case of artificial photosynthesis, the catalyst would be incorporated directly into a solar panel system that includes materials that absorb sunlight and generate electrons, membranes, and the catalyst that converts protons into hydrogen gas.

In such a system, the catalyst wouldn't be supplied with much of a current, which translates into pretty slow rates of water splitting. It'd be on the order of 30 to 40 mA/cm^2. Nocera says his catalyst works at about 5 mA/cm^2, so it's pretty close.

But if you don't have an artificial photosynthesis system, you are going to need two separate devices: the electricity generator plus a separate electrolyser that includes Nocera's catalyst. That's going to cost more. You can minimize these capital costs if you have catalyst that works at a higher current density and produces hydrogen at a faster rater (the faster, the smaller the system you need). There are also space considerations. In this case, you'd probably want a catalyst that works at high current densities. Today's, albeit expensive, electrolysers, for example, can work at 800 mA/cm^2 or more. It seems likely that you wouldn't need to go quite that far, since Nocera's system would be cheaper. But you'd want significantly higher densities than 30 to 40 mA/cm^2, Turner says.

Nocera actually has a different take. He thinks electrolysers based on his catalysts could be cost effective using photovoltaics as the power source, provided the current densities are improved a bit. This is especially true if you are using only part of the current from the PVs to power the electrolysis, using the rest to power your home during the day. "

BTW: The lab where I am working right now will try to include the catalyst into our reverse engeneering protein mimicking photosystem II. If this works and spits water... Than the effiency and costs of solar energy could be taken to new level.

Comments by Bob Parks, retired professor University of Maryland who has a passion for debunking weak, misleading, or outright false physics-related claims. View his weekly site at: http://www.bobpark.org/

Friday, August 8, 2008
You may recall that in his 2003 State-of-the-Union Address President George W. Bush promised energy independence with Freedom Car, (WN 31 Jan 03) , "powered by hydrogen and pollution free." He forgot to say where the hydrogen would come from. MIT chemist Daniel Nocera said last week in Science online that he has the solution: "artificial photosynthesis." Did he invent artificial photosynthesis, you ask? Not exactly, evolution "invented" photosynthesis. Nocera isn't about synthesizing anything; he wants to break up water using electric power from solar cells. So he invented solar cells? No, other people did that. Nocera wants to use solar cells to do electrolysis. Nocera invented electrolysis? Not quite, that was invented by Lavosier before his beheading in 1794; Nocera found a catalyst that he says does electrolysis better. Does it? We don't know; it hasn't been replicated. MIT says it's a "major discovery."
wants to break up water using electric power from solar cells. So he invented solar cells? No, other people did that. Nocera wants to use solar cells to do electrolysis. Nocera invented electrolysis? Not quite, that was invented by Lavosier before his beheading in 1794; Nocera found a catalyst that he says does electrolysis better. Does it? We don't know; it hasn't been replicated. MIT says it's a "major discovery."

I haven't seen any discussion of the possibility of converting hydrogen (plus CO2) to methane (say via Sabatier process) and pumping it into the Natural Gas distribution system. Methane is easier to handle than hydrogen. There is a distribution infrastructure already in place. There is also an in-place infrastructure for converting it to electricity. And it has proven itself to be a good vehicle fuel.